As the decision for 2012’s Newbery award draws nearer, Okay for Now and Inside Out & Back Again are getting a lot of love and buzz. But remember how Moon over Manifest came out of nowhere for the win? Just in case history repeats itself, we’ve drawn up our list of sticker-worthy books that shouldn’t be overlooked:
The Dark Horse: Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (Jan 2011)
How to describe this book? It’s probably the most depressing book I read in 2011. It forces us to confront ugly truths (thank goodness for the bumbling American soldiers who added a touch of levity) and the writing felt authentic—I was fully transported to Zulaikha’s world, sometimes to the point of claustraphobia. Reedy deserves a medal for writing about a complex situation with respect and nuance. But is it the most distinguished writing from 2011? I felt that the beginning dragged a bit, and some of the descriptions could have been trimmed. Like Chime, this book teeters on the upper edge of Newbery age readership. In a perfect world that wouldn’t matter, though I suspect it might push the book into Printz consideration. In any case, I would be surprised but quite pleased if Reedy’s book scores a sticker of some kind.
The Dark Knight and his Steed: The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris (April 2011)
This one made it onto the top ten list at Heavy Medal, but its overall buzz level remains second tier. What a shame. The writing is certainly distinguished, the characters quite memorable, and did I mention that it’s funny? Humor and distinguished writing go hand-in-hand with Sir Gawain. You can’t help chuckling every time King Arthur says “bother” or when the narrator commentates on the absurdities of knighthood (and that hotly-contested economics rant bothered me not a bit. It’s the kind of thing I would’ve ignored as a kid, and which the adult me finds delightful). Morris embeds the fun within important character development and plot points, so it doesn’t feel like he’s hitting you over the head with his point (indeed, the only head-hitting is done by, and done to, the hapless skulls of the knights in this book). I’m still rooting for Okay for Now to win the gold, but it would make my day to see Gawain snag an honor.
The Heavyweight Contender: Bird in a Box by Andrea Pinkney (April 2011)
Lots of Newbery worthy books are charming, but Bird in a Box is also spunky and has three times the attitude and heart, thanks to first person narration from its three young protagonists, Otis, Willie, and Bernie. Taking place during the Depression and the golden age of radio, Pinkney weaves their personal dreams and fears with the public hopes of African-Americans across the nation as they rally behind a boxing legend in the making, Joe Louis. Pinkney also makes deft and logical use of bird and box metaphors throughout the story, evoking everything from Maya Angelou’s poem to a boxing ring. Like Louis, this one’s a winner that packs a punch!
The Under(taker)dogs: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Sept 2011)
Probably the quirkiest of the bunch, Gantos’ fictional autobiography features his younger self as a protagonist whose nose spurts blood at the slightest provocation. When Jack fires his father’s old WWII gun without permission, he is blackmailed into helping his plucky old neighbor type up the town obituaries (Miss Volker has severe arthritis, which she sporadically treats by melting her hands in hot wax). In return, Jack is in for a highly memorable summer involving town history, Eleanor Roosevelt, visits as the Grim Reaper, trouble with a pack of Hells Angels, the dangling possibility of a dancing plague, a one-sided romance, and a murder mystery! What makes this story all the more fun is Gantos’ humorous writing style, which had us guessing what was fact and what was fiction throughout the entire book.