Ever since working at the children’s department in South Carolina, I selected titles that I hoped would be honored by the various committees…but never shared them outside of conversations with other kidlit fiends & friends. This year, I’m sharing my choices with all of you. And similar to the official (secret) voting in the ALA committees, I’ll select three titles for each award: a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice for the award.
The Newbery. The granddaddy of ALA Awards, given “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”. Even as a child, the gold sticker on the cover of a book was a visual promise of an excellent story. From the fantastical Terabithia to the letters to Mr. Henshaw, I read and re-read Newbery titles with fervor. These are the three from 2015 that I think deserve similar adoration.
My 2016 Mock Newbery Awards:
First Choice: Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
Echo has been my Newbery front-runner since early summer. Prompted by editor Tracy Mack to move the 592-page behemoth to the top of my to-read pile, it’s a choice that I didn’t regret. Ryan lyrically weaves together three stories – one of a young boy in pre-WWII Germany, one of a poor orphan in Depression-era Philadelphia, one of a migrant girl in 40’s California – with a seemingly common harmonica. It’s the final story, the utter brillance of the novel, that deftly, amazingly, ties the three stories together in unimaginable ways.
Second Choice: Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
The initial stiltedness of the novel – three stories (and points of view) colliding – aside, this is a story of friendship, loyalty, and growth is one for the ages. Focused on the life of Bridget, a seventh-grader attending school for the first time, Stead effortlessly infuses boys, body awareness. family rifts, and social faux-pas. And while it may feel as though there is one too many bits to the story, fear not: all storylines intersect in a skillful, satisfying ending.
Third Choice: The War the Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Long has Dahl’s Matilda had the worst mother in children’s literature. No longer. Meet Ava: a prisoner in her home due to an club foot, her abusive mother keeps her under lock and key…literally. Often beaten and locked under the sink, Ava is cowed. But when her brother and other children are to be evacuated from London to the countryside in pre-WWII, she demonstrates an iron will, learning to walk so that she won’t be left behind and escaping her berating mother. She and Jamie are ultimately taken in by solitary Susan, who has no inkling toward raising children. That’s fine with Ava, who is jumpy toward any perceived touch from Susan and prefers to spend time with her horses. The tender growth of relationships and steps toward healing make for a wholly satisfying novel.