Sunday, January 31, 2010

100 Books by 10-10-10: Throwing down the Gauntlet

Here's something I did not know about the phenomena known as Social Media:  It is awash in challenges. In the past few months I have been made aware of the following blogging challenges:
  • Blogging every day for a month - I was not even remotely tempted.
  • Cleaning out the backlog of unfinished posts - yeah right, I will get on that one as soon as I get around to putting my Christmas decorations from 2008 away.
  • Commenting on at least five blogs a day – I actually signed up for that one, and I may have met the quota, but I lost interest in keeping track. I usually don’t have too much trouble blathering on other people’s blogs, as a matter-of-fact there may be several restraining orders pending to get me to stop. I do believe I got a few comments on this blog because of the challenge, and I became aware of several dandy blogs. My favorite being Literate Lives, run by a 5th grade teacher and elementary Librarian in Ohio, Karen and Bill. I am such a fan of their blog I can’t even begin to say. They do what I wish I could get around to doing on this blog, but can’t seem to stay focused enough.
At the beginning of this weekend my sister made me aware of challenge which I could not resist. I mentioned before in this blog that I am at a complete loss of self-control when faced with a list. Whether it is making list a list of some sort of favorite, or watching a grand countdown, my attention will be swallowed whole and I will be incapable of doing anything else until the criteria are met. The challenge described in this article is the 10-10-10 READING CHALLENGE – 10 BOOKS IN 10 GENRES BY 10-10-10. This challenge for our decennial year has the lovely rounded symmetry that can’t help but ensnare any OCD-minded book-enthusiast.

The rules are thus: Choose 10 genres of your own making and read 10 books in each genre by Oct. 10th of this year. The genres can be creative and should be outside of your routine reading sphere. This theoretically adds up to 100 books in less than 10 months. This may seem quite ambitious for someone who has previously admitted to belonging to the dyslexia spectrum. How then can I possible hope to achieve victory? I plan to cheat, naturally. I will also be counting books “read” with my auditory sense, AKA audio books. Also if a book happens to fit in more than one list, well obviously it will get a place in each of them. A book can’t help it if it’s popular. I am stopping short of counting the many, many picture books I read although if one happens to belong on the non-fiction shelf, well then of course it counts.  And admittedly  a few of the genres are not outside of my reading comfort zone.

My 10 Genres are:

 1. NON-FICTION/MEMOIR/AUTOBIOGRAPHY/BIOGRAPHY: nonfiction really is my Achilles heel and something I’ve been trying to incorporate more of in my reading log. Haven’t been doing so well - 10 sounds like a good start.

2. NEWBERY/HONORS HERETOFORE NEVER READ: Sure I’m great at reading the books before they are chosen but what about all those who came before. I know a few people who can boast that they have read every Newbery to date – show offs. I will be able to hold my chin high when I add 10 more. In fact I may make this an ongoing challenge for the years to come. With a finite number I’m sure to catch up at some point before the grim reaper calls.

3. FIRST IN SERIES OF EARLY CHAPTER BOOKS: Don’t think I can’t hear you sniggering at this category. Sure most of these books will have less than 100 hundred pages along with plenty of page-filling art, but don’t think this won’t be a challenge on my part. I am doing this purely for my students. There are many series on our shelves that I know nothing about. I hope to discover a few gems I can pass onto my 2nd and 3rd graders.

4. GRAPHIC NOVELS: After trying to convince parents and teachers that reading books with speech bubbles is just as valid as any other sort of reading it is time I put my eyeballs where my mouth is. Sure reading graphic novels take more brain effort than reading straight text, that is why I have so much trouble with it.

5. DEBUT AUTHORS: If it is the first book an author had published, it goes on the list. I’m a bit giddy here. I have friend whose first book is going to be released on 10-01-10 by Scholastic and I will have the thrill of putting it in my tally. In fact I don’t even need to wait because I have an early ARC (suck on that you Conspiracy of Kings show-offs).

6. 2010 TITLES: Obviously this is no sacrifice as I’m always on the quest of ferreting out the next Newbery. But really shouldn’t I get some credit somewhere?

7. NON-US AUTHORS: This is a sacrifice as naturally none of these will be Newbery worthy, but I’m reading a monstrous 500+ page book right now by a British author and I insist that it will count for something. (Are you noticing that I’m getting some sort of sick satisfaction in having my leisure time activates all of a sudden “count”?)

8. FOUND IN ADULT SECTION (adult as in grown-up not racy): The biggest sacrifice of all.

9. PUBLISHED BEFORE MY BIRTH – 1963: I noticed that this is a big deficit in my reading history. I’m sure a few good things appeared before I did.

10. 10 OLDEST BOOKS ON GOODREADS TBR SHELF: I will be like cleaning house. Without this challenge I may never get to the Le Guin that has been there forever and if I never get it read I’m in big danger of losing a few friends.

There it is.  What do you think?  Do you want to play to?  Run over to 10-10-10 READING CHALLENGE  and sign up.  Apparently we can keep in touch on Twitter.  I can be found @librariest, but I'm not very well versed in using it and you may be disappointed.  Just for Kicks and Giggles I will be posting my progress monthly on this here blog.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Results of the 2nd Annual Snow Horse Leu-bery

This past week marked the second year in a row an assemblage of well-read students from my school, gathered in the early hours of a January morning. They were eager to view the results of the ALSC awards announcement, and to discover which of the books, they have been cramming to read over the past couple months, came out on top in their own vote. Last year in an attempt to spread my Newbery obsession onto unsuspecting participants, I suggested our gifted teacher developed a literature class for her upper grades around a Mock Newbery. As I explained here she did a wonderful job and further justified my unhealthy pre-occupation.

Disclaimer: No actual professional photographers were inconvenienced in the making of this blog post, which will be abundantly clear.

Around thirty 6th graders were given the task of reading five titles apiece.


  • The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg
  • Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

And one of the following electives:

  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
  • The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCammilo
  • Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James Swanson (Our feeble attempt to include non-fiction)

The two major obstacles in pulling off this criteria is number one, convincing 6th graders that they can indeed read five books in two months. Many lightweights dropped out early on, leaving a select few worthy of being on the committee. Remember this is coming from someone who has a life-time membership in the dyslexia club. I did sympathise - but really, could they not see the vision of getting to pick their own winners and read a bunch of great books to boot?

The other obstacle was having enough copies of 2009 titles, (most only available in expensive hardback), to pass between the participants. Naturally my meager library budget did not allow me to run out and purchase multiple copies, and sadly our county library does not keep as up on newer titles as would seem prudent. This tricky wicket was circumvented by the existence of our in-house book club, consisting of several of our teachers, other staff, including our charming principal, and myself. As a matter-of-fact the above list was created with an eye to using books we had read throughout the year. In a gracious gesture the book club members lent their personal copies to the cause. Another source of economy was to exploit the offerings of the semi-annual book fair. Scholastic, in their wisdom, carried a couple titles we were able to procure with PTA approved book-fair credit.

By the Friday before the actual announcements were to be made, the student should have read their selected books, completed a visually stimulating project (see below) and voted for their pick. Following Newbery protocol they placed a ranked vote for their top three. First place votes counted for 4 points, second - 3 points and third - 2 points.

The day of our big event did not take place until a couple days after the real awards had been announced. In a misguided decision ALA choose to hold their meeting this year a week earlier than in previous years, which resulted in the award announcements being made on a the MLK holiday, a non-school day. Although a few of the kids cheated and researched the results before showing up for the big reveal, they were dedicated to keeping that information to themselves. With many thanks to the intrepid Betsy Bird of Fuse #8, for getting her bootleg video footage of the event up and running for us to view on the designated morning, we gathered about the library to watch the events unfold. One advantage of watching it at a later date was the ability to zero in on the awards most pertinent to an elementary age student. Those present were told that they should be thrilled that their own library was already in possession of so many award-winning books.

Here we see the excitement over our Gisels

They were indeed thrilled when The Lion & the Mouse took the Caldecott, as Mr. Gene Nelson from this year’s Caldecott Committee, and from our state, had held a condensed Mock Caldecott with them in December. They were early fans of Pinkney’s stunning offering.

Although donuts were promised a 'bait and switch' was deployed by healthier heads (see our above-mentioned charming principal):

The enthusiastic response when Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me took Newbery gold:

Once we were finished with the audio-visual portion of our morning, the announcement was made regarding their votes. (Last year, in an attempt to reinforce the knowledge that I work at the most awesome school in the country, the student award for "The Most Distinguished Contribution to Snow Horse Literature" was christened the Leu-bery after yours truly.)

I am now pleased to announce the results of the 2010 SNOW HORSE LEU-BERY:


    • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead


    • The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick
    • All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg

    I mentioned before that a visually delightsome project was required to finish the project. Behold the evidence of such in the following photo gallery:

    A bit of When You Reach Me:

    A little flirting over lunch

    Miranda's apartment with a suspiciously large key

    This display has defiantly peaked the curiosity of the students yet to read the book.

    The veil parts at the gameshow

    Every plot climax should be immortalized in snack food.

    Now some of Homer P. Figg:

    How about All the Broken Pieces as cereal boxes:

    Or maybe your are "Peck"ish over breakfast:

    Naturally DiCammillo's The Magicians Elephant more than lent itself to drama:

    12-year-olds should always be put in charge of marketing campaigns.

    I believe that purple splotch is the unfortunate Madame Bettine LaVaughn

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    A Time-Honored Post Newbery Tradition: In which I attempt to post my first video

    Regardless of where in the country the Newbery and Caldecott medalists may be when they get the news, the very next thing they will be required to do is make travel arrangements to the NBC studios to appear on The Today's Show.

    EDITORIAL NOTE: Attempt to embed NBC video failed. We are blaming NBC.

    Here is a link to watch Jerry Pinkney and Rebecca Stead basking in the glow of their medals, (not really they don't get the medals until next summer).

    I love Pinkney's comment that his book is about family. The favorite illustration for me and my students in his book is the picture inside the back cover showing an outing with families Lion & Mouse.

    The women conducting the interview reinforce my preference for NPR as a news source.

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Ladies and Gentelman May I Present Your 2010 Children's Literature Awards

    It has been a very good morning indeed: a bit of snow, good companions, and TOTAL VINDICATION.

    Two of my intrepid Fantasy Newberyers, Matt and Shannon, joined me in the early hours of the AM in my more than frigid library to watch the proceedings. Also joining us, via speaker phone, was my sister in Portland who couldn’t master the connection. All events should have a disembodied voice in attendance.

    Enough on setting and character development let us proceed with the action portion of the tale. I will begin at the end and work backwards for those of you who just showed up for the Newbery results.

    Meaningless points will be scored under the following criteria:

    • 5 point if my predicted winner won the medal
    • 3 points for every honor book (also for any books that I choose to win the medal but won the honor, and vice versa)
    • 1 point if I have read the book, but did not choose it to win.

    In addition:

    • 3 points for every book I have for the library prior to the awards.

    Naturally I will be ignoring all the awards that didn't manage to score me any points but you can get a comprehensive list here.



    • When you Reach Me by Rebecca Stead - Oh how little faith I had. So, so deserving, however one among us still maintains "If you have to engage in time travel apologetics to explain a book, then perhaps that book lacks the necessary criteria of plotting and organization." I on the other hand was nothing but smiles and giggles. (6 points, I can’t take the 5 for the medal as my prediction moved it down to the honor spot)


    • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose – also winner of the most bling of the day. (6 points)
    • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly – In my world there will be many more books like this, and I’m hoping Jackie is up to it. (6 point, I know I’m cheating as I didn’t put her in my predictions, but I’m taking the points anyhow, deal with it)
    • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin – Well earned and deserved. (6 points)
    • The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg by Rodman Philbrick – I think hearing this title announced may have given me the biggest thrill of the morning as it was the most unexpected. Up until a week ago, when I had to make my final decision, this was on my Goodreads 2010 Newbery List. Our book club read it very early in the year and unanimously adored it, but as time went on, as time does, it slipped from my memory, as memory does. I hope an audio book is in the works. I’m most excited, however, that it was one of the required books for our student Mock Newbery. (4 points)


    • The Lion & the Mouse, illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney – No surprises or complaints here (8 points)


    • All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, written by Liz Garton Scanlon - Sigh, I guess I’ll have to break down and give this another chance. Let the record show I was on board with the illustrations from the beginning. Go Frazee! (4 points)
    • Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, written by Joyce Sidman – This is a lovely addition to an elementary library with its soft poetry about the season and their colors and of course it’s now award winning illustrations. (6 points)


    • Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream,” written by Tanya Lee Stone – also a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award nomination. It ranks for an older audience than my students. (0 points)


    • The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer's Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors,” written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tony Persiani – Have it, have it - but haven’t read it yet - maybe today. (3 points)
    • Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 written and illustrated by Brian Floca – Caldecott should be feeling ashamed for passing on this most perfect of books. (6 points)
    • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” written by Phillip Hoose – with a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award nomination and the National Book Award the count is 4 shiny objects that can be plastered on this vivid account of injustice turned historic renovation. (6 points)

    GEISEL MEDAL: (Can I go on the record here as stating that this is the committee I want to serve on. Being a bit dyslexic I could never give the Newbery its just due, but the oversized and evenly spaced words in this field would be just right)

    • Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!, written and illustrated by Geoffrey Hayes – Not the TOON book I picked for the medal but I’m guessing Art Spiegelman is considering this a very good day. (3 points)


    • I Spy Fly Guy! written and illustrated by Tedd Arnold – This is so fitting, I first encountered Fly Guy due to the first Geisel awards 5 years ago. This disease ridden superhero is a crowd pleaser with my students. (3 points)
    • Little Mouse Gets Ready, written and illustrated by Jeff Smith – Told you he would be there, I love this little guy. (6 points)
    • Mouse and Mole: Fine Feathered Friends, written and illustrated by Wong Herbert Yee – I am totally ignorant. Guess what just went into my Amazon cart? (0 points)
    • Pearl and Wagner: One Funny Day, written by Kate McMullan, illustrated by R. W. Alley – I will be taking the two books I have in the series home today for some serious professional reading. I’m a big fan of McMullan’s “I’m” series; I’m Bad is a big crowd pleaser with the story time set. (0 points)

    There you have it. Total points - 67. If any other School librarians want to play please feel free to count up your totals and post them in the comments.

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Mock Results and Mental Illness

    I think I’m developing a couple of disorders. First off I seem to be suffering from a bizarre form of Tourettes. Yesterday I told my daughter to turn the Newbery off. I told my husband that the Newbery was out of gas. And announced that I was much too tired to make Newbery and maybe we should just order pizza.

    My husband, who by day is a school psychologist, is worried his wife is becoming further entrenched in the Autistic spectrum. He pointed out that I seemed to be showing signs of a full blown “special focus”. Merely because I arranged to have my school security turned off a half hour early, and convinced our most generous and accommodating custodian to meet me at the school in order to unlock the door at 5:30 AM so I could be assured of getting the best band-width available to watch the ALSC webcast. I’m not sure of this diagnosis but then again I don’t always have the best social skills either. . . I prefer to think of my current pre-occupation in the terms that my fellow Mock Newberyer, Shannon, put it, “Some people have fantasy Football teams, we have fantasy Newberys”.

    Speaking of which, here is a recap of our 1st annual Northern Utah Fantasy Newbery (we still need to come up with a name). By some accounts it might not be considered a triumph, as there were only four of us present, and only two of us had read all the books. On the other hand we managed to fill up over three hours with intelligent conversation of the books at hand and the Newbery criteria. It helped that the other three present were indeed brilliant.

    Here is a quick recap: (very quick as it is late and I have an early morning)

    The Participants:

    • Shannon: beautiful and brilliant 5th grade teacher. The kind of teacher you would slip your principal a $50 to ensure your kid got into her class, (but then we have five 5th grade teachers like that, guaranteeing that our principal has plenty of spending money) Shannon can also sit down and whip through hundreds of page at a single sitting. As a member of my book club she had read all the books with the exception of Claudette. She was able polish it off hours before the festivities.
    • Matt: Soon to be published author, school psychologist, Azure’s husband, and very insightful commenter at Mock Newberys. He had read ¾ of When You Reach Me.
    • Azure: One of the smartest most focused people I’ve shared space with, (I honestly feel smarter after speaking with her), school psychologist, Matt’s wife, and close examiner of Newbery Terms and Criteria, holding us to a high standard of evaluation. She had read none of the books, but forced me to consider elements beyond “But I really liked it.”
    I don’t have time to go over the discussion on each of the books. I do think it is important, considering the results, for you to know that I went in knowing which book I wanted to win; secure nothing could sway my choice, especially with only one other voting entity on the committee.

    Shannon, teacher that she is, whipped up a Rubric graph with the Newbery Criteria across the top and the books down the side.

    We went over each title talking about the elements of:

    • Interpretation of the theme or concept
    • Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization
    • Development of a plot
    • Delineation of characters
    • Delineation of a setting
    • Appropriateness of style
    • Distinguished contribution to Children’s Literature

    Once the dust had settled and we looked at the cold, hard numbers, my choice did not have the highest score (and I conceded that it did not meet the highest standard in terms of accuracy, clarity, and organization).

    The winner of the NUFN 2010 is:

    • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

    Three-way tie for honors:

    • When you Reach Me
    • Wild Things
    • Claudette Colvin (Shannon did not want to give a non-fiction book the award, stating that reading non-fiction was not the same experience as fiction. She was told to get over it)

      We will see what happens tomorrow.

    Two insightful comments by Matt:

    • In referring to the criticism that Calpurnia was too long and meandering, without much action “But isn’t evolution a long and slow process with just the tiniest of variation when it happens”.
    • “Anne of Green Gables is one of most influential female characters in children’s literature. Writers who have never read the book are still being influenced by works that are 3 or 4 times removed.”

    You may remember that I predicted that Where the Mountain Meets the Moon will walk with gold. Shannon took a copy home with her after we wrapped up. I recieved this comment from her in my e-mail today:

      “Ok - so I just finished reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and surprisingly I really liked it - as you know I do not generally gravitate towards books with dragons.... I really think it could be contender for the Newberry. Using the 'rubric' we used on the other books - in my opinion it has great character and plot development - the setting was vivid and I would say developed to the point of being a character in the book. Even though it was fairy-talish (is that an adjective?) I did find myself connected to and caring about the characters. It is appropriate for children and I think contributes excellence to children's literature- the style is unlike any other book we read. I love the way Grace Lin integrated the folktales from her childhood into a cohesive story. I definitely think the writing was superb, and the theme simple yet complex as the layers of the various stories came together. In a nutshell - in my mind it is distinguished and unique. Although it's not my favorite genre - and not a book I would typically pick up, I think based on the Newberry criteria it may now be my number one pick... Just curious to hear what you think if you've read the book. I have my class read folktales from other countries & then write their own folktales, and I think this would be a great read-a-loud to introduce Chinese folktales. See you tomorrow morning - I can't wait to see what books the committee chooses - we'll see if they are as wise as us.”

    Told you she was intelligent.

    I will shed no tears if Garce Lin gets the call either.

    Only a few hours left!

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    A Shot at Prediction: please hand me my Swami turban

    I’ve been reading everyone else’s predictions regarding the upcoming AlSC awards on Monday and I want to play. As I mentioned before I will be hosting my own Mock Newbery for grown-ups this Saturday. Some of my students are in the midst of a Mock Newbery of their own, on which I also plan to post the results of at some point. In the mean time let me revert back to my tried and true method of holding an awards ceremony with a committee of one, so much simpler than arriving at a consensus.

    Two years ago I made my first venture into the prediction game, and as you can see here I didn’t do too bad with my results, with 2 of the actual four as my finalists. Last year I scored 3 of 5. I have yet to get the gold placed in the right spot which may not bode well for my Medal pick this year, but they might find comfort in the fact that they are assured of earning silver.
    This year, in an act of bravado, I’ve decided to branch out and hit a few other awards as well.


    First the winners if I were a committee of one.


    • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead - I’ve been happy with many a book this year. But nothing said “Look at me, I bet you haven’t seen my ilk in quite some time.” I like this story of friendship, mystery, game shows, and redemption, I really do.


    • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly– Some say too long, I say I could have spent a few hundred more pages in Texas, unbearable heat or no, with Calpurnia, her brothers and her curmudgeon of a grandpa.
    • Claudette Colvin: Twice toward Justice by Phillip Hoose– I find this account of one un-sung girl, who was a catalyst for one of the most important events in the Civil Rights movement, distinguished in every way.
    • Wild Thing by Clay Carmichael – Every year I have a choice on my list just because I absolutely adored the book (Emma Jean Lazarus, Alvin Ho). This story of a precocious untamed girl connecting with her unmanageable Uncle, a feral cat and mysterious forest boy is everything I would have loved in a book at the age of 12.

    My prediction of what I think the real committee will come up with:
    Medal: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
    Honors: When You Reach Me, and Claudette Colvin



    • The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney – If there can be a sure thing on Monday this would be it. I’ve been sharing it with most of my students this week and we all agree that this wordless story is worthy of all the hype. And really, can 900 kids be wrong?


    • Higher, Higher by Leslie Patricelli – I have been reading this all week to my wee ones and I so wish I could have a video of the faces as we move through the pages:
      • First few pages - polite amusement
      • The mountain page – jaw dropping, bug-eyed incredulity
      • Leaving earth behind page – utter unadulterated delight
      • Spaceship page – uncontrolled giggling
      • Wordless dissention pages - always accompanied by appropriate winding-down sound effects
    • Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca – a perfect book in every way.
    • A Penguin Story by Antoinette Portis – Simple, succinct, and delightful.

    Medal: The Lion & the Mouse
    Honors: All the World, Moonshot, and Red Sings from the Treetops


    (Confession, I haven’t read much non-fiction, but by all accounts this was a killer great year for the facts, and nothing but the facts. I have yet to read two of my picks so these are also my prediction. On my honor I will read the other two or may hellfire rain down)


    • Claudette Colvin: Twice toward Justice by Phillip Hoose


    • Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
    • Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman
    • Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and don’t You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge


    (I’m not as familiar with the field for this award so I’m going with what has gone over like a house-a-fire with my students)

    • Little Mouse Gets Dressed by Jeff Smith


    • Pigs Make Me Sneeze by Mo Willems
    • Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas
    • Birthday for Bear by Bonny Becker

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010


    Here is your official reminder about the 1st annual Northern Utah, East of the Great Salty Lake, West of the Rockies, Adult Mock Newbery. We will work on the name, never fear. As I mentioned last month, the meeting will be held at my school library:

    Snow Horse Elementary,
    1095 Smith Lane, Kaysville,
    This Saturday, January 16th
    10:00 A M.

    It should be a swell time, with many thanks to my Principal, Kathleen, for arranging that there will be heat for the occasion. Although an extra sweater might not go amiss as we tend to have a barn of a room to heat.

    The list of books chosen for discussion are:

    • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
    • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
    • Wild Things by Clay Carmichael
    • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate Jacqueline Kelly
    • All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg
    • Season of Gifts by Richard Peck

    Please consider coming even if you have not read the entire list, or indeed any of the list. In fact if you have another title you would like to put forward don't be shy about singing it's praises. It's not like I got the word out in a timely manner and this year will be about setting a precedent and possibly coming up with a name for our group. When I choose this weekend last month, pushing it to the latest possible weekend, I forgot what a juicy long weekend it was for leaving town and not coming to Mock Newberys. At this point I will be thrilled if I'm not muttering to myself in a corner. If it helps, I believe there will be treats.

    The Second announcement is that it is time for another Kid Lit Pie Night. Brooke and I have been in negotiations and have settled on a time and place:

    Wednesday January 27th
    7:30 P M
    Bountiful Marie Callenders
    406 S. Main, Bountiful, UT

    Those of us who were able to make it to the pilot meeting had such a satisfying time, talking about all things involving books that are targeted well below our median age. Consider this an open invitation to anyone in the vicinity, with the same passion/obsession, looking for an outlet this side of harassing shoppers in the children's section of Barnes and Noble. Timing will be just right to hash over the results of the upcoming non-mock ALSC awards. Hopefully there will be rejoicing and not too many brandishing pitchforks because their favorites were robbed.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    The Top 10 Middle-Grade Novels of all Time

    The Challenge: to pick, choose, classify, pigeonhole, endorse, and/or isolate the top ten middle-grade chapter books of all time. Oh, Sophie I feel your pain.

    That’s right folks Betsy Bird of Fuse #8 is at it again. After holding us enraptured last year as she, with the help of her readers, tallied up the 100 picture books of all time, she is now asking us to pick our top 10 middle-grade books, in order to create a top 100 list. No sweat you say? That’s what I thought. I immediately scampered over to Goodreads and created a top-middle-grade-fiction bookshelf and before I knew it there were 25 titles lined up on the shelf, each one smugly daring me to send it to the discard pile. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anyone so I let the shelf simmer for a bit - asked other readers their favorites – looked about my library – checked the Newbery listings from the beginning of time – rifled through the best of lists on Goodreads and . . . the list just got bigger. Dagnabit!

    This morning I sat down with the intention of doing a rough draft of the books that were absolute must-haves on the list, supposing that there would be a few slots left over for a bit of debate. Alas once the Must-have list was finished it counted up to 12. Double-dagnabit!! At least I could see, (through my tear-glazed vision), who would be left behind. In an excruciating slash I also had to cut Laura Ingalls and Grandma Dowdel. I hope they will forgive me, and may God have mercy on my soul.

    This list turned out to be very personal. I have an emotional attachment to nearly every one of these books. I was not a big non-Nancy Drew children’s lit reader when I was an actual child. A few of the books that were around when I was the age of the intended audience, I didn’t find until I was of a more advance age. A couple of the titles were discovered when my children were small enough for me to hold captive and read to every night. There is only one book on the list because I know it will be in the top three once the dust has settled. About half of the choices are part of a greater series and since Betsy is not, rightly-so, allowing us to nominate an entire series I had to filter out my top choice in the series, which was brutal. My original list had a fair amount of newer titles, When You Reach Me, Savvy, The Penderwicks, and for what I’m guessing is a subliminal need to allow a bit of fermentation, they didn’t drop onto the must-have list. I wouldn’t be surprised if in ten years one or all of these titles shove some of the others aside.

    Here goes from bottom to top:

    #10- The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton: this is the most personal choice of all. Hinton’s melodramatic story of high school social-economic gang warfare is here for no other reason than it was my favorite book when I was a middle-grade reader. I remember exactly where I was standing as I was walking home from school, when I first saw it in the Scholastic book order. I’m pretty sure it was the first book I chose for myself without my mother’s influence. I knew nothing about it other than it looked exciting and . . . dangerous. I’m not sure what it was in my 5th grade existence that needed the spice of danger, but that’s what I was drawn to. Once I got the prize in my little hands I proceeded to read it countless times though early adolescence. I was pretty convinced that one day I would meet Soda Pop and we would live happily, if a bit dangerously ever after. I know it is technically considered YA but it stays for my 10-year-self!

    #9 – Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: This is here because I know it will be in the top three once all is counted up and recognized, also I do adore this story of friendship and farm smells. This is the first chapter book I remember my mother reading to me. I still own that copy. Regardless if a child has never seen a porcine anything outside the meat department of the local grocery store, they will immediately identify with Fern’s desire to rescue Wilber and put doll clothes on him. As a rule I am not drawn to, indeed actively shun, talking animal books but when it comes to geese with speech impediments I’m putty-utty in the masterful E. B. Whites hands.

    #8 – Holes by Louis Sachar: Another one of my tiles that will be scratching and clawing for the #1 spot on the final list. It is widely considered the best Newbery of all time, simply because it is a perfect book!

    #7 – Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: I read this several times to my, now-grown, boys and for years when asked what their favorite book was Maniac was their unhesitant answer. Since I’ve been working in Elementary schools, I’ve noticed that it is a popular choice as a classroom read. I’ve never heard a single kid who despised this story of orphaned super-heroic cleverness, athleticism, and poignant longing to find family. Spinelli’s prose is as rhythmic and swift as his character’s gait as it moves us breathlessly through the pages of the story.

    #6 – The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis: Not only does this book have a mightily important year in its title (the March on Washington, Kennedy assignation, the year yours truly entered the world), but the Watson’s are one of my favorite families in literature. In fact once upon a time I called into a local NPR show, which was hosting the author, just to say that I would really like the Watsons to move in next door to me, and did he know if they were looking? The radio station had some questions for their screeners after that lapse of judgment, I am sure. This was another read-aloud to my young ones, and as I read it to my then innocent little boys I mentally took parenting notes on how to handle idiotic teenage shenanigans. Of course it also begins with one of the funniest opening scenes of narcissistic comeuppance. While deicing the car in the sub-zero Michigan winter, big brother Byron gets attached to the family vehicle by the lips, when he kisses his irresistible reflection in the side-view mirror.

    #5 – The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner: This wasn’t going to be on the list at first glance, as I was placing it on the YA side of things. Although the Eugenides series is my current obsessive series, the one I fear I may die before I get to the end, I realize that it is much too subtle and complex for the average middle-grade reader. Thus I wasn’t going to put it on my list, but then I took Betsy’s advice and checked what Powell’s had to say on the subject of its reading level and as you can plainly see it is firmly placed in the middle-grade section. I’m choosing The King of Attolia over The Thief as it is my favorite of the three I’ve been able to get at thus far. (I really think those you with ARCs of #4 are just plain cruel to flaunt your riches on Goodreads in front of us peasants) Outside of Grandma Dowdel there is no other character I love more than Eugenides. I actually believe they would be very good friends. Can you imagine the high jinks the two of them could pull off? Mischievous teenagers and conniving attendants should be put on notice at once.

    #4 – Ramona the Pest by Beverly Clearly: There is no other character that I identify more with than Ramona. Notice that I didn’t use the past tense of the verb? As a child I fully understood every motivation that Ramona had for the trouble she managed to find herself in, whether it was getting stuck in the mud because it was too irresistible to one sporting new boots, to being fascinated by the fancy girl’s ringlets to the point of covert tugging. Beverly Clearly is an absolute genius when it comes to capturing what it means to be a kid. She completely understands their fears, joys, anxieties, and passions. It took Ramona 50 years to go from being a casual mention as Beezus’s odd little sister in Henry Huggins to reach 4th grade in Ramona’s World. I figure I still have a few years before I need to outgrow my Ramona stage. For readers of this blog you may remember my romp through Ramonaland this past summer.

    #3 – The High King by Lloyd Alexander: I guess it’s a given that someone who named one of her sons Taran would have at least one of Chronicles of Prydain on her list. This series was my first exposure to Fantasy and I found it as an adult. Believe it or not I managed to get through childhood without exposure to Middle Earth or Narnia. I was utterly enchanted with the experience of moving through an epic adventure with a troop of loveable companions. Although I would never suggest reading just one of the 5 books in the series, let alone the final book, I am choosing The High King for the list as it is everything a middle-grade novel should be. There is despair, treachery, daring-do, romance, intrigue, an epic moment of nick-of-time realization all tied up in an enormously satisfying ending. Truth be told Taran Wanderer is my personal favorite of the five, but it doesn’t come close to standing alone where I think The High King might stand a chance, though it would be a shame to miss out on the beginning of the tale.

    #2 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling: Choosing the first book is a strategic choice to offset vote splitting. There are certainly others in the series that may excite me more (Order of the Phoenix comes to mind) but I can’t fathom getting to any of the other books without first facing off with the original Harry. I would like to say I was the first person I knew personally to read this book, which is a very braggy thing to say, but it also means that I had to wait through 6 release dates. I’m horribly jealous of my little students who are plowing through the series for the first time and don’t need wait any longer than it takes to run over to the shelf to start the next book. Early on when the release dates were staggered between the UK and the rest of the world, we were living close enough to Canada to get a limey copy of The Chamber of Secrets. Well that was quite a bit about me, me, me and not a bit about the book but then what is there to say really. Harry made the entire world sit up and take notice of Fantasy fiction and Children’s literature at large, what more important phenomena could there be in a list about top Middle-grade fiction. Not to mention that it is quite an excellent yarn in every way.

    #1 – Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery: If my childhood self was Ramona, Anne is who I wanted to be. If at some point I don’t get to put on a dress with puffed sleeves and run down the White Way of Delight to the Lake of Shinning Waters, my life will be a pale shadow of what it should be. After reading this for the first time at the age of 12 or 13 I re-read and re-read the passage where Gilbert finds Anne stranded under the bridge. So much romance for my little twitterpated heart! Although the rest of the series can’t compare to the first I have read them all through several times. I am enchanted by the Victorian delicacy of the language, particularly when Anne is pregnant. What “secret smiles” and “small hopes for the future” can covey in reference to biology.

    For good or ill that is my list. With deepest apologies to my favorite ADD duo Clementine and Joey Pigza, Schmidt’s Holling Hoodhood, the fair Kate, and the Fitzgerald brothers. If only counting to 10 could have included you.

    Now readers, if indeed you do exist, what are your picks and shouldn’t you scoot over to Fuse#8 and make your voice heard.