1987 Honor: On My Honor

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4.5/5

WARNING: On My Honor talks about the loss of a child in an accident.

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer, one of the 1987 Newbery Honor awardees, is a dark but very touching story. Joel and his best friend Tony ride their bikes towards Starved Rock park. Tony, a daredevil, wants to climb the bluffs. Joel is more cautious. On the way to the park, Tony decides to go swimming in the Vermillion River, despite the dangers it poses (strong current, quicksand, etc and the fact that he can’t really swim. Joel joins him and dares Tony to swim to a sandbar. When Joel makes it there, he is shocked that Tony isn’t behind him. When Joel leaves the sandbar, his feet hit a much deeper whirlpool; he’s fairly sure Tony encountered the same. Joel unsuccessfully searches for Tony, and flags down a passerby to help search.

However, when he’s making his way home, Joel is overcome and can’t find the words to tell anyone what happened. Eventually, he tells a partial story to his dad, then tells the full story to the police when they come by to talk to Tony’s parents.

The author does an AMAZING job getting inside Joel’s head. She helps us understand why Joel decides not to tell his parents and/or the police immediately. She also tells the story of Joel’s emotional struggle with his friends loss, including both blaming himself and blaming his dad (who gave him permission to go on the bike ride).

I HIGHLY recommend this book. It’d be especially poignant for children who have lost a friend, but could also be a great book to kick off discussion of making choices and living with the consequences.

 

1955 Honor: The Courage of Sarah Noble

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

The Courage of Sarah Noble by Alice Dalgliesh is a pleasantly surprising children’s book that emphasizes the positives of the newly budding relationship between white settlers and Native Americans in the early 1700s. Eight-year-old Sarah travels with her father into the Connecticut wilderness to help build a house. When her father leaves to get her mother and sister, Sarah musters up her courage and stays with the nearby Indians, waiting for her family to return.

This was a very simplistic and charming book based on the true story of the first settlers of the town of New Milford, Connecticut who were friendly with the Indians in their region. While this book is definitely targeted towards younger readers, Sarah is an admirable heroine for readers of all ages who braves the wilderness by herself and learns a completely new culture. Her adaptability in a foreign situation can get children thinking about how they would do in a different culture and makes for a heroine who also has to stick up for her newfound friends when her family doesn’t quite approve of them.

This novel’s simplicity is its greatest strength as well as its greatest weakness. There’s not much conflict, and the plot is pretty lacking despite having a strong main character. Despite this, The Courage of Sarah Noble could easily be a great discussion starter to get children interested in American history in colonial times. While it does have some stereotypical American Indian characters in supporting roles, it definitely beats other early year Newbery winners such as Daniel Boone and The Matchlock Gun in its portrayal of Indians as more than just savages, but this book lacks the subtlety and thematic weight of later Newbery Honor winner The Sign of the Beaver.

2014 Honor: One Came Home

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3.5/5

One Came Home is a Western adventure story about a tenacious teenage girl who takes off on her own to solve a deadly mystery. Taking place in Wisconsin during 1871, an unidentifiable body shows up a few days after Georgie’s sister ran away from home. Everyone believes the body to be Agatha’s, except for Georgie, who decides to leave town to find out the truth of what happened to her sister. On her journey, she runs into some unwanted friends and some unsavory criminals, but ultimately has to find the inner strength to deal with her family’s tragedy.

Death plays a central role in the novel as Georgie goes through the grieving process while trying to figure out what happened to her sister. Her relationship with her sister’s former suitor, Billy, builds up nicely as they both have secrets they’ve kept from each other about her missing sister. Georgie is a strong heroine for young readers. She’s skilled with a rifle and doesn’t hesitate to use it to save her friend’s life. It’s fun to read about a girl who is placed in a masculine-heavy frontier setting and how she has adapted to this type of worldview.

The world building is interesting as well. A portion of the Georgie’s numerous flashbacks and interactions with her sister focuses on the skill of pigeoning as vast swarms of pigeons begin nesting in hordes in the rural Wisconsin landscape. The author weaves the history of this hunting sport into the overall mystery, adding to the ruggedness of the setting that Georgie finds herself in.

I found this book to be very enjoyable and would have given it a higher rating had the ending not let me down. While kid readers will not complain about the happily-ever-after resolution, the narrative felt like it was leading to a different place than where it actually ended up. While I enjoyed the adventure, the ending left me feeling unsatisfied.

Overall, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to junior high students as a starting point into the Western genre. Though the beginning is a bit slow, Amy Timberlake’s One Came Home picks up when Georgie sets out on her own. The main character is a likable heroine, and her relationships with her family and townsfolk feel authentic and true to the time period, making for an entertaining adventure.

 

1981 Honor: The Fledgling

VERDICT: Trash

Sally’s Rating: 2/5

Jane Langton’s The Fledgling is about a young girl’s obsession with flying, but it fails to meet the same great heights of other magical realism stories that focus on human and animal friendships. In this Newbery Honor winner, Georgie becomes obsessed with the idea that she can fly and befriends a Canadian goose who takes her on flights during the night. Her family doesn’t understand her innocent yearning to fly and her interfering neighbor’s deadly vendetta against the harmless, old goose leads to inevitable tragedy.

This was an odd book. The magical realism aspect of the story was a bit too much for me, and the ending left me a bit confused and wondering what the point of the novel was. The main character is very sympathetic, as she feels truly alone as no one else truly understands her, but the family supports her in the best way they can, nonetheless. The flying scenes encompass the best parts of the book since the writing style really allows for the reader to feel the freedom and wonderment that Georgie feels.

The setting at Walden Pond is well integrated in the novel, with one of the characters researching the works of Henry David Thoreau, and the themes of transcendentalism are embedded within the narrative allowing for an easy way to introduce young readers to this type of literature.

This book has a lot of potential, and the writing style is very beautiful, infusing the story with a dream-like quality. Despite this, I would not recommend the book, unless you are a big fan of flying geese or transcendentalism.

1984 Honor: The Sign of the Beaver

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3.5/5

Elizabeth George Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver is a story of survival and friendship among two vastly different cultures. When his father leaves one day on family business, twelve-year-old Matt is suddenly left alone to guard their cabin in the wilderness with no weapons and having no way to hunt for food. With his father gone for longer than expected, Matt begins to develop a friendship with Attean, a boy from the local Beaver clan, and begins to learn about the Native American way of life in exchange for teaching Attean how to read.

The growing friendship between the two young boys lends this children’s book some gravitas that takes it beyond a simple survival tale. Despite coming from two completely different cultures, they bond over their enjoyment of a Robinson Crusoe book and their misconceptions of each other begin to be challenged.

The harshness of the settler lifestyle is intriguing to read about, as Matt is put into dangerous situations like trying to figure out if he can trust a stranger who wants to stay the night in his cabin or finding ways to deal with the constant fear of wild animals potentially getting into his food stores or attacking him.

The only really negative thing about the book was that I felt the Indian tribe was written in a very stereotypical way and may not be as historically accurate or nuanced as it could have been. Despite this, it was nice to see a Newbery Honor book paint Native American interactions with white settlers in a positive light, unlike The Matchlock Gun and Daniel Boone, as well as the author’s melancholic foreshadowing of the continual takeover of Indian land and how that affected Indian tribes. The ending highlights these ideas to great effect as it ends on a bittersweet note with Matt forced to choose one life over the other.

Overall, this is a decent survival story with characters that are easy to sympathize with. Young readers will be able to identify with Matt’s struggles while also introducing them to how settlers and Native Americans interacted and lived in the 18th century.

 

1980 Honor: The Road From Home – The Story of an Armenian Girl

VERDICT: Meh

Sally’s Rating: 2.5/5

In the 1980 Newbery Honor, The Road From Home: The Story of an Armenian Girl, author David Kherdian retells his mother’s story of surviving the Armenian Genocide.

The book begins with the early years of Veron, who grows up among a respected upper class family. When the Armenian Genocide begins in 1915, Veron and her family are deported and forced out of their homes by the Turkish government. After years of trying to survive and escape the atrocities done to her people, Veron eventually leaves for American as a mail-order bride and hopes for a brighter future.

The book reads very much like a memoir. Veron is shown to be a strong and courageous person and is forced to survive incredible hardships and suffering. Her strength is, without a doubt, the highlight of this piece. The genocide that is depicted is chilling and horrible to read about, but somehow I found my attention drifting throughout the story as the writing style lacked a sense of urgency and true horror. On top of that, it was hard to connect with the characters as the narrative stilted the character’s emotions and development.

For those interested in learning more about Armenian culture and this historical era, this book has a lot to offer. On the other hand, if you are looking for a compelling narrative, don’t bother with this book, as it is a bit of a disappointment.

2006 Honor: Whittington (a cat tale)

VERDICT: 2.5/5

Sally’s Rating: Trash

Whittington by Alan Armstrong is a classic cat tale – full of warmth, humor and history.

This Newbery Honor winning tale follows Whittington, a scruffy tomcat who arrives one day at a barn full of rescued animals and asks for a place to stay. To earn his keep, he narrates the story of his 16th century ancestor, the nameless cat of a boyish Dick Whittington – the man who would eventually become a wealthy merchant and Lord Mayor of London.

A secondary subplot follows the two grandchildren of the landowner. Abby’s brother Ben struggles with dyslexia and has been warned by the school principal that if his reading skills do not improve, he cannot pass his current grade. Through Whittington’s influence, everyone finds ways to try to encourage Ben to become a better reader.

Overall, I found this book to be a bit of a disappointment. Most of the story takes place in the past through the cat’s narration of the events surrounding the true-to-life Dick Whittington, and when juxtaposed with the dyslexia storyline, makes for an all-over-the-place thematic narrative. The best parts of the book follow the cat’s humorous attempts to cull the rat problem in the barn and his honest discussions with the duck that is in charge. Otherwise, it’s a slow muddle through a book that has no enticing plot to grab the reader’s attention.

If looking for a book with talking animal characters, take a pass on this one. No doubt there are more engaging stories out there that feature cats, rats and geese for readers to indulge in.