2016: Last Stop on Market Street (a busy city bus ride)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3.5/5

Matt de la Pena’s Last Stop on Market Street takes a simple plot of a boy riding a bus with his grandma and molds it into a beautiful story about how we should be grateful for the things we have and embrace a more optimistic spirit as we go about our daily lives.

More of an illustrated book than a middle school novel, Last Stop on Market Street’s colorful pages showcase a variety of scenes and characters in a vibrant cityscape as the main character takes a bus ride through the streets and meets a bunch of people, including a man who is blind, a guitar player and a spotted dog. The grandmother, of course, points out the things a small child might miss on the bus ride and shows him a new way to see the world.

While Christian Robinson’s illustrations are the main showstopper, this children’s book has a great, inspiring message. This book is really about finding and enjoying the small things in life, even if you don’t have many worldly possessions. Through the perspective of a child, the reader can see the world through the lens of someone in wonder and awe at seeing and understanding things for the first time in their life.

Overall, Last Stop on Market Street presents an uplifting message, but the short page count makes it a forgettable Newbery Medal winner.

 

2016: Last Stop on Market Street

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

Last Stop on Market Street, the highly acclaimed winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal as well as numerous other awards, is aimed at early elementary school children. As such, it’s a bit hard to judge against other Newbery Medal winners because it’s written at a completely different level.

The story told is that of a young boy and his grandmother, who have an entertaining bus ride to the final stop of the Market Street bus route. Along the way, the grandmother gently instructs the kid on how to interact with people. Everything is infused with her optimism and unique worldview. At the end of the bus ride, the duo arrive at a soup kitchen, where they help serve a meal.

The story is very simple; what really sells it are the beautiful illustrations, depicting a diverse community going about its daily life. The optimism is contagious and touching. I highly recommend this for younger kids; the language is simple enough that it’d likely work as a read-together book for those first learning to read.

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.

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.

 

 

1959 Honor: The Family Under the Bridge

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3.5/5

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson is a sugary Christmas tale about a grumpy old hobo and the homeless children who warm his cold and bitter heart.

This is an optimistic story about finding the best in yourself and others. Armand is a homeless man who lives under a bridge in Paris. One day, he finds three little kids playing there, after being abandoned by their mother who had to work during the day. Armand is initially irritated with the kids and only sees them as a way to help him with panhandling, but he eventually is won over by their resilience and becomes part of their family by helping them find a home.

The setting takes place in Paris, which gives the story a bit of a fairy tale-esque vibe. The children themselves are selfless, and only want a home for the holidays. Their hope and optimism really shines throughout the book despite the horrible situation they’ve grown up with.

The book does a great job of tackling the idea of why someone would want to live a life of homelessness. Armand happily lives his life and sleeps under a bridge each night because he enjoys the freedom that being a hobo brings to him. As he develops a friendship with the children, he slowly becomes torn between his desire for a solitary life and his feeling of responsibility towards the children.

I’d definitely recommend this book as a family reading activity for parents and children who want to get into the Christmas mood.

1976 Honor: The Hundred Penny Box (A Life in Change)

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

The Hundred Penny Box, by Sharon Bell Mathis tells the story of Michael, a young child, and his Aunt Dew. The venerable Aunt Dew is a hundred years old and has recently moved in with Michael’s parents. She tells wonderful stories about Reconstruction and other momentous historical events. However, Michael’s mother frequently clashes with Aunt Dew. Michael cherishes Aunt Dew; he helps keep her hundred penny box from destruction and prompts her for stories. He is sweet and patient with her even when she calls him by his father’s name.

My summary really doesn’t capture the book. So much of it is in tone; along with the corresponding images, they tell the tender story of a strong, venerable black woman who survived a whole lot and wants to share that with others. While are there some hints that she has Alzheimer’s/memory loss, her relationship with Michael is strong.

I highly recommend this, particularly for early elementary school students. While they may need some help reading it, the story will (hopefully) resonate and help them be more thoughtful in their own interactions with the elderly. Even as a grown-up, I found this an incredibly touching, poignant story that captures multiple perspectives while honoring the primary narrators. It explores Michael’s mother’s frustrations at Aunt Dew moving in as well as Aunt Dew’s struggle to maintain a sense of self and independence after she has moved.

1949 Honor: My Father’s Dragon

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

In this amusing tale from 1949, a boy retells the story of how his father, when he himself was young, traveled to a far away island to rescue a baby dragon.

When his (used henceforth to refer to the father) mother ejects the alley cat which he has been feeding, the boy sets off to Wild Island to rescue an imprisoned baby dragon. Using his wits and the items he brought in his bag, he outsmarts a wide variety of hostile animals. Tigers are fond of chewing gum, the rhinoceros clearly wanted for a toothbrush and toothpaste with which to clean his horn, and the lion desperately needed a comb for his mane. In a final stroke of brilliance, the boy ties lollipops to the crocodiles’ tails to get them to form a bridge across the river.

The boy successfully frees the chained up baby dragon, and the two fly away together.

This is a simple children’s book, but the wittiness of the boy and the fabulous illustrations make this worth reading. It took maybe – maybe – half a lunch period to read, so it’s a quick and entertaining entry in the Newbery cannon.