Newbery Verdict: Hello, Universe

20220527ma_0718Book: Hello, Universe (2017)
Author: Erin Entrada Kelly
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (2018)

Opening Lines of the Book…

Eleven-year-old Virgil Salinas already regretted the rest of middle school, and he’d only just finished sixth grade. He imagined all those years stretching ahead of him like a long line of hurdles, each of them getting taller, thicker, and heavier, and him standing in front of them on his weak and skinny legs. He was no good at hurdles.

MY THOUGHTS…

This was an interesting story about two shy kids (Virgil and Valencia) and how they are brought together into a friendship, with the help of another friend (Kaori). And there’s the bully (Chet). Valencia is a character who can’t hear, something that fits in quite nicely into the plot. When the moment at the well came, I was like … Wow! This is genius.

I particularly liked the little sister (Gen) and her jump rope. I’m not sure why I was drawn to this character, but I was. I was a little surprised that the bully doesn’t get in trouble for his part in the story, but that’s sometimes how real life goes. (Kind of reminds me of old Mr. Potter in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. He never gets “punished” for the trouble he causes George Bailey. All except to see George succeed despite his meddling. Which is a punishment in its own way, isn’t it. And that’s how I see Chet.)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I quite enjoyed this book. It won the Newbery in 2018. That was the same year that Long Way Down was also up for a Newbery. I would have had a hard time voting between these two books.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: Holes

20220411ma_0526Book: Holes (1998)
Author: Louis Sachar
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (1999)

Opening Lines of the Book…

This is no lake at Camp Green Lake. There once was a very large lake here, the largest lake in Texas. That was over a hundred years ago. Now it is just a dry, flat wasteland.

MY THOUGHTS…

I really enjoyed re-reading this book. I probably first read it 20 years ago, so it’s been a while. (I also saw the movie whenever that came out.) Anyhow, I did in fact enjoy coming back to the world of Stanley Yelnats and his buddies at Camp Green Lake (which is not a camp for Girl Scouts, by the way).

And even though I already knew the secrets of the book, I loved discovering them once more with Stanley. I particularly liked the friendship between Stanley and Zero and how all that works out. (Hey, I want a friend like Zero, too!)

The villains in this story are great. The Warden, Sir, Mr. Pendanski. They’re over-the-top and yet somehow believable. And I love how everything about the past connects with the present. Top-notch writing here!

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This really is a book that sticks with you. It’s hard to forget all those holes! I can see why it was awarded the Newbery back in 1999. I would give it a Newbery today. Yes, it’s that good.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: Wolf Hollow

20220306ma_0412Book: Wolf Hollow (2016)
Author: Lauren Wolk
Publisher: Dutton Children’s Books
Genre: MG, Historical (WWII)
Newbery Honor Book (2017)

Opening Lines of the Book…

The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie. I don’t mean the small fibs that children tell. I mean real lies fed by real fears–things I said and did that took me out of the life I’d always known and put me down hard into a new one.

MY THOUGHTS…

This book is about bullies. And what a bully do we get to meet in Betty, the new girl at school! She is particularly nasty. Poor Annabelle! How I felt for her as Betty made her wicked threats.

And then there was the strange hermit-type, Toby. I think I read somewhere that he’s been compared to Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, and I would say that’s about right. It turns out that Betty plans to use him as her scapegoat. Let’s just say that a lot of the grown-ups in the book think Betty is a little angel.

When Betty goes missing, things really get serious. Annabelle wants to save Toby, but she also thinks she knows where Betty might be.

I liked the little connection to photography with Toby and his photos. As a photographer myself, I like books that feature cameras and such.

The ending is bittersweet. I won’t spoil it, but there are some good things that come out in the end. And there are also some sad things. It has a nice realism to it.

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I did enjoy this book overall. Although, not everything is pretty-pretty. And Betty is a hard villain to stomach. I can see why it was given a Newbery Honor!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: Long Way Down

Book: Long Way Down (2017)
Author: Jason Reynolds
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Genre: Upper MG / YA, Novel in Verse
Newbery Honor Book (2018)

Opening Lines of the Book…

DON’T NOBODY
believe nothing
these days

which is why I haven’t
told nobody the story
I’m about to tell you.

MY THOUGHTS…

The opening did a good job in making me feel the connection between Will and his older brother Shawn. We immediately get into the story of Shawn’s death. Very emotional. The book pretty much takes place within a 24 hour time period. And most of the book is about the elevator ride (it’s a “long way down”) that Will takes.

In the elevator, Will meets several others going down. I won’t spoil it here, but there’s a very neat connection between all of them. What I will say is that I really liked how the cigarette smoke and the cigarettes in general are connected to the L button. There is so much wonderful symbolism in this book!

I thought the blank verse and poetry worked well. The ending is quite open-ended… It really made me think about what it meant, and I liked that. (I think this book really would be an excellent discussion piece for a classroom. And I assume it is used as such.)

Regarding the cover of the book… I am more and more impressed every time I see it. At first, I didn’t notice the boy’s face in the upper right-hand corner! Love it.

NOTE: This book does contain some language that is not found in most MG works, which is probably why it’s often categorized as YA. But I still think this book is important for Upper MG readers. This isn’t a book where the characters are swearing every other line. It’s only maybe three instances that help lend to the reality of the story.

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This is one of those books where I’m not sure if it’s quite YA. The protagonist seemed younger to me (he’s 15 in the book, but he seemed more like he was 12 or 13 to me). The topic and some of the language was definitely edging into YA, but I would definitely recommend this for upper middle school. What an amazing conversation starter. Definitely deserved being awarded a Newbery Honor!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: A Wish in the Dark

20220116ma_0175Book: A Wish in the Dark (2020)
Author: Christine Soontornvat
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: MG, Magical Realism
Newbery Honor Book (2021)

Opening Lines of the Book…
A monster of a mango tree grew in the courtyard of Namwon Prison. Its fluffy green branches stretched across the cracked cement and hung over the soupy brown water of the Chattana River. The women inmates spent most of their days sheltered under the shade of this tree while the boats glided up and down and up again on the other side of the prison gate.

MY THOUGHTS…

So, this book is basically a retelling of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables … with children! And magical orbs that light up the Thai-inspired city. We get to follow the lives of two children born in a prison and marked for life because of crimes they didn’t commit. One of them (Pong) escapes, while the other one (Somkit) goes through the system and is released at the age of 13.

And those magical orbs play a big part in the story. I loved the symbolism they bring as well as how they work into the actual plot.

Then there is the mystery surrounding Nok and her family. (Her dad’s the prison warden.) Yes, she is the law-abiding Javert character. I really like how things play out with her.

And we can’t forget to mention the monk, Father Cham and the motherly Ampai who both take Pong under their wings. (Actually, it was what Father Cham does that tipped me off on the Les Miz retelling bit. I don’t tend to read book descriptions for fear of spoilers, so I was blissfully unaware of the connection until this part in the book.)

I’ll end with one of the quotes in the book… “Which was better: being safe or having freedom? And did you have to choose?” Love how it connected to the story. Love how it connects to our own world.

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I’ve seen this one around and finally decided to pick it up. I wish I had read it sooner! I did NOT know the Les Miserables connection until the middle of the book when I was: “Hey, this reminds me of Victor Hugo…” Anyhow, I really enjoyed it, and I would even say I preferred this book to the book that won When You Trap a Tiger last year.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: Roller Girl

20211230ma_4237Book: Roller Girl (2015)
Author: Victoria Jamieson
Publisher: Dial
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel
Newbery Honor Book (2016)

Opening Lines of the Book…
If you really want to know, it all began back in fifth grade. Back when Nicole and I were still best friends.

MY THOUGHTS…

This is the story of two friends, Astrid and Nicole, who get to see a roller derby. I love how Astrid loves roller derby, but when she first puts on skates, she’s a disaster! Yet still, she’s determined to be like the roller derby champion: Rainbow Bite.

Speaking of Rainbow Bite… She’s not in the book much, but she still comes off as such an awesome role model. Astrid writes anonymous letters to her but hesitates to reveal her true identity. There’s a bit at the end that is very satisfying.

In a lot of ways, this book is a story about how two friends grow apart because of … reasons. And yet, it’s also a story of how they can still be friends and also friends with other people. I really like her new friend, Zoey. The hair-dyeing scene is fun (even though I’m not generally a fan of hair dye!) And I love the scene when they go outside to practice their roller derby!

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I’ve had many people recommend this book, saying I would really like it, and … they were right! Definitely, this book deserved its Honor status. I haven’t read the Last Stop on Market Street (which won that year), so I can’t comment on which book is better (in my humble opinion).

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up. (Note: This year is the 100th Anniversary of the Award!)

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: Night Diary

20210907ma_3309Book: Night Diary (2018)
Author: Veera Hiranandani
Publisher: Kokila
Genre: MG, Historical (1947)
Newbery Honor Book (2019)

Opening Lines of the Book…
Dear Mama, I know you know what happened today at 6:00 a.m., twelve years ago. How could you not? It was the day we came and you left, but I don’t want to be sad today. I want to be happy and tell you everything. I’ll start at the beginning.

MY THOUGHTS…

This story is about a family who lives through the partition of India in 1947. While I was aware of this (the reason we have Pakistan vs. India), I found this book helped me understand this in a more real way! THIS is why we have historical fiction. And this book did an amazing job in bringing us to this historical event.

The story is told through Nisha’s diary, in letters to her dead mother, a mother she never knew. Nisha and her twin brother Amil have a Muslim mother and a Hindu father. But as the events of 1947 unfold, that doesn’t help them. The leaders in India have decided to split India into two: Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Because of their Hindu father, they must leave their home. Suddenly, fear has turned neighbor against neighbor.

After a hard goodbye to their Muslim cook, Nisha and her family set out on a journey to their new home in the new India.

The desert journey was quite moving … so very sad. The family, at one point, runs out of water. You can just FEEL the desperation. And I love how the author brings in Gandhi, not as a character, but as a glimmer of hope for the future; that the whole world hasn’t gone crazy.

So, what did I think about the book as a whole?

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I really enjoyed this Newbery Honor book. In fact, I loved it! And while I also very much enjoyed Merci Suarez (Newbery Winner that year), if it had been up to me, I might have voted for this one … probably because of the historical element to the story. I LOVE history!

P.S. That cover is haunting!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: Merci Suárez Changes Gears

20210522ma_1155Book: Merci Suárez Changes Gears (2018)
Author: Meg Medina
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (2019)

Opening Lines of the Book…
To think, only yesterday I was in chancletas, sipping lemonade and watching my twin cousins run through the sprinkler in the yard. Now, I’m here in Mr. Patchett’s class, sweating in my polyester school blazer and waiting for this torture to be over.

MY THOUGHTS…

Merci Suárez is having trouble at school. She doesn’t want to be a Sunshine Buddy to some new boy from Minnesota. And she has to deal the Queen Bee of her class, Edna. Merci struggles with being ostracized but eventually finds her own tribe. One of the best scenes has to do with a mummy, Edna, and a pair of scissors. (Totally reminded me of a very memorable happening in a movie my sister and I loved as children: The Trouble with Angels (1966). If you know the movie, you will know what I’m talking about!)

And then there’s trouble at home. Lolo, Merci’s beloved grandfather, is acting weird… forgetful. He refuses to come to Grands’ Day at school, and poor Merci has no clue why. Of course, as an adult, we can deduce that it’s some form of dementia. (No surprise when it turns out to be Alzheimer’s Disease; although, this IS a surprise to Merci.) I did love her connection to Lolo. There’s one particularly scary moment when Merci can’t find her grandfather on the beach but does find one of his shoes lying in the sand! Ay-ay-ay!

What I didn’t get is WHY the family thought it a good idea to keep the diagnosis from Merci. It’s not like she couldn’t see that her grandfather was acting weird. (I didn’t quite buy that part of the book.)

I also loved Merci’s big extended family. She lives in one of three little houses with her own family, her grandparents, and her aunt and twin cousins. I did like her older brother, Roli. He’s super-smart but also a super-slow-driving brother. As he learns to drive, it’s his job to get them to school. But Merci always seems to be late because Roli drives like an old man!

So, what did I think about the book as a whole?

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I’ve been meaning to read this book since it won the Newbery back in 2019. I’ve taken it out of the library on at least 2-3 separate occasions only to return it before I could actually read it. But finally, I was able to get to this book. And I’m glad I did. Now, I’m looking forward to reading the next Merci Suárez adventure!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: When You Trap a Tiger

20210218ma_0325

Book: When You Trap a Tiger (2020)
Author: Tae Keller
Publisher: Random House
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Newbery Winner (2021)

Opening Lines of the Book…
“I can turn invisible. It’s a superpower, or at least a secret power. But it’s not like in the movies, and I’m not a superhero, so don’t start thing that. Heroes are the stars who save the day. I justdisappear.”

MY THOUGHTS…

This book won the Newbery this year (2021). I was pretty excited when it was announced since I had the book sitting on my nightstand! I was ready to dive right in.

This is a story about a shy, quiet girl named Lily. She and her mother and sister come to live with their Korean grandmother (Halmoni). Halmoni has always had a special bond with the girls, regaling them with stories from Korean folklore about a tiger that walks around like a man. But Lily soon discovers that something’s wrong with her usually-so-vibrant Halmoni. She confides to Lily that she has stolen the stories and now the tiger wants them back. When Lily starts seeing the tiger, she knows she has to do something to trap it to save the life of her beloved grandmother.

Okay, first off, I like imagination in books. This book, however, crossed a line for my suspension of disbelief. I like the idea, but the tiger conversations bothered me. (Maybe it was my adult-brain kicking in!) I found Lily’s conversations with the tiger slightly worrisome. I know it was all metaphorical, and I liked that to a certain extent. I liked how it connected to the grandmother’s stories. And I even liked reading the stories the tiger tells (I found them very interesting). But the whole thing made me concerned for Lily’s mental health. Maybe it was supposed to be magical realism? If it was, it just felt off to me.

And yet, I loved how Lily and her new friend (the boy she meets at the library) work together to do something to try to help the grandmother (i.e. trapping the tiger). And how the whole grandmother plot unfolds is very compelling and engaging with some wonderful emotional beats.

So, what did I think about the book as a whole?

NEWBERY VERDICT…

Ultimately, I will say that I have mixed feelings about this book. I did like all the Korean folklore stories, but the parts about the tiger did bother me enough. (And I really did not like the sister.) While I liked this book, I didn’t love it. Now, I haven’t read all the Newbery contenders for the year, but I did read We Dream of Space by Erin Entrada Kelly. Personally, I would have voted for that book over this one.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

Newbery Verdict: The Whipping Boy

The Whipping Boy // by Sid Fleischman (1986)

TheWhippingBoyNewbery Winner (1987)
Genre: MG, Fantasy/Classic
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: When Prince Brat decides to run away, he takes Jemmy (his whipping boy) with him, only to be captured by two ruffians. Jemmy keeps his head and, in order to rescue the prince, arranges to swap places with him. But Prince Brat is so bratty and self-focused that he doesn’t catch onto Jemmy’s plan… which leads to complications and danger.

MY THOUGHTS…

Wow! Just, wow! I read this book in a single sitting and boy, was it powerful. I love Jemmy and his quick-witted brain. As for Prince Brat, I was ready to throttle him over the head several times. He truly is such a despicable character until… well, until he isn’t. I love his transformation!

The humour is spot-on. The chapter titles are fun. The character names are just perfect. It’s a simple story that is truly delightful. Really, I don’t often gush about a book, but I’m gushing about this one!

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This book won the Newbery back in 1987. Did it deserve it? Absolutely!

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!


Newbery Verdict Reading Challenge: This is a personal challenge for me to read books that have either won the Newbery Medal or are a Newbery Honor book. The Newbery is named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. Since 1922, this annual award has given to the author of the “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” A Newbery Honor book is given to the runners-up.

Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday