Newbery Verdict: The Avion My Uncle Flew

The Avion My Uncle Flew // by Cyrus Fisher (1946)

Avion-Uncle-FlewNewbery Honor Book (1947)
Genre: MG, Fiction/Historical
Rating: 3 Stars

Basic Plot: Johnny Littlehorn injures his leg at his home on a ranch in Wyoming. To help with the healing process, he is sent to live with his uncle in a small village in France. As he helps his uncle build an “avion” on top of a mountain, he discovers a plot that involves a secret cache of gold and Nazis in hiding…

MY THOUGHTS…

Johnny’s mother is originally from France, but Johnny has no interest in learning the language. So, she makes a deal with him that encourages him to start learning… quickly. The whole book is scattered with French words (like the title of the book) and shows us Johnny’s thought process as he figures out different French phrases. Everything is fairly simple, but I liked how it was done.

One of the funniest parts is when Johnny is trying to get his friend, Charles, to help him with a plan. Except that Charles only speaks French and Johnny’s French is simple at best. Of course, misunderstandings happen and well… I won’t spoil it for you.

I hesitated to put this down as “historical fiction”… Because it was published in 1946, technically it’d be contemporary fiction! I do love how it gives you a real idea of what life was like during those post-war years in France… instead of through the eyes of a historical novelist writing from our own time.

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I don’t think it would get a Newbery Honor today. And in some ways, the book hasn’t aged well. It had some good moments though. And I did enjoy it for its historicity.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Would you give this a Newbery Honor today? 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.

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Review: On the Spectrum

on-the-spectrumBook: On the Spectrum
Author: Jennifer Gold
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Clara’s guidance counselor is worried that she has an eating disorder called orthorexia. Clara thinks she’s just being healthy about her weight. Then she goes to Paris for the summer to visit her dad and his new family. Her half-brother, Alastair, is on the spectrum for autism. As he and Clara walk about Paris, they challenge one another to take baby steps in overcoming their great fears.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Paris? Croissants? A boulangerie? Yes. Yes. Yes.

2) Love the cover on this one. I like the line drawings of the different buildings. And then there’s the little line drawing of Clara and Alastair at the bottom.

3) So, this is a book about a girl (Clara) who struggles with orthorexia, an eating disorder fixated on healthy eating. Not quite anorexia, but its “healthier” cousin. And Clara’s struggle in this book is depicted in such a real way. Same goes with her ballerina mom. The opening of the first chapter (which is kind of like a prologue) is quite poignant. The beginnings of Clara’s obsession with making sure she has a flat tummy.

4) The relationship that develops between Clara and her brother, Alastair, is sweet. I’m almost surprised at how quickly it happens. Especially since she hasn’t seen Alastair since he was practically a baby. But for some reason, I did believe it.

5) I loved the comparison of the two siblings both being “on the spectrum”, each in their own way… Alastair for autism, and Clara for an eating disorder.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I think we spent too much time in New York City at the beginning of the book. We needed to get to Paris quicker. That said, I know we need to start with her normal life, but we could have lost a couple of chapters, no problem.

2) I didn’t like some of the on-the-nose dialogue, especially between Mag (the stepmum) and Clara. I’m not sure apologies come that quickly or easily. It just seemed like something out of a “How to Heal Families” scenario from a psychology text book…

3) Too many kisses, too early on. Not so spoil who kisses whom… But there were too many “first date” kisses, in my opinion. It kind of made all of the kisses lack-lustre.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I enjoy learning something and definitely learned about eating disorders in this one. I thought the author was able to really get in the head of Clara regarding her eating struggles.

Review: Rook

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Book: Rook
Author: Sharon Cameron
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Sophia Bellamy and her brother Tom live in an anti-technological dystopian world. And to top it all, they’re also re-living the days of the French Revolution… complete with a Scarlet Pimpernel-type called “The Rook”. Sophia is to be married to a french dandy named René Hasard, as a way to save her family home. René’s cousin, LeBlanc, is intent on capturing the Rook… which leads him straight to Bellamy House.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) The Scarlet Pimpernel. This is basically a reworking of that story. Need I say more???

2) I thought Cameron does a good job with her world-building in this one. We get glimpses of the past Paris and England, but her new dystopian world seems legit. I love how we’re back to 18th century fashion and horse-drawn carriages! (They all signed anti-technology pacts!)

3) René Hasard makes a likeable version of Sir Percy Blakeney while Sophia makes a good Marguerite St. Just (“cleverest woman in Europe”!). And Cameron mixes things up with some twists and also some role reversals… She does enough to pay homage to the original, while making her own story.

4) I love all the little Scarlet Pimpernel Easter Eggs that pop up here and there. Like St. Just, the fox… just to mention one.

5) LeBlanc is a worthy villain. He seems to be always one step ahead of the Rook. Which is infuriatingly good!

6) The bit at the end regarding Maman… No spoilers. I thought this was a nice touch. Especially rounding out René’s story.

7) There is a love-triangle in this book. I’m not usually crazy about love-triangles, however, this one works into the plot. I was glad that Sophia was NOT made into a simpering/waffling chit who just “can’t make up her mind. Oh dear, what’s she to do??” I hate when the girl can’t figure out which guys she likes. Sophia ain’t like that, thank goodness.

8) Speaking of the romance element of the book… I thought it was nicely done. There was some wonderful romantic tension which played out nicely. (No kissing too early in the book. That’s my rule!)

9) Love the cover. Especially that Eiffel Tower. I didn’t notice at first how the tower has been “decapitated” (thinking the clouds/mist was covering it.) It certainly captures the mood of the story world perfectly.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) You know what drove me nuts? The last names of René Hasard and Spear Hammond. They both begin with “Ha” and end with “d”. Really?! I kept getting the two of them mixed up. This may be partly due to the fact that, with regards to Spear’s name, I kept thinking Spear was his last name (it’s not. It’s his first name.) Why? Why?! Why??!!!!!

2) And I felt there were a little too many minor characters at times. It was hard to keep everybody straight. Who’s who, now? I felt I almost needed a character list at front of the book. This wasn’t as bad as the Hasard/Hammond mix-up (because those two should never be taken for the other), but it did cause a little confusion at times.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I really liked this book! I love retellings, especially when it’s well done; and this retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel is beautiful. (It also makes me want to re-read the original.)

Review: The Tin Snail

tin-snailBook: The Tin Snail
Author: Cameron McAllister
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: It’s 1938. A French boy wants to save his father’s job and to do that, he needs to help his father design a “people’s car”. But just when they’re on to something, the Nazis invade France. Now it’s time to hide their work before it falls into the wrong hands.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) I really liked the main characters. No, wait. I really liked ALL the whole cast of characters in the book. They were quirky without being too quirky. Angelo with all his gumption and inspiration. Camille. Bertrand. The mayor who is the enemy, turned ally.

2) I loved the historical setting. France. World War Two. This is really a book about the French Resistance… in a really weird way. And it’s a book about a very unique type of automobile. (I’ve seen those old Citroen cars in Europe. And, yes, I thought they were ugly. But ugly, in a cute way.)

3) Bertrand’s philosophy: “Some things aren’t meant to be… The rest aren’t meant to be, yet.” In fact, Bertrand’s optimism and enthusiasm is particularly appealing… especially how he deals with Angelo and the father and the pitfalls surrounding the creation of a brand-new car.

4) I loved the three acts: the Inspiration, the building of the car, and finally the attempts to thwart the Nazis from stealing the hard work. The final act has enough intrigue and chases to grab anybody’s attention.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) I wish they would have put more illustrations about the various prototypes. There’s an illustrator, and each prototype is described in the book. But oddly enough, there really are no illustrations to help the reader “see” the car as it is developed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4! Stars (out of 5) – Yes, I really liked this book. It has a historical bent, but I didn’t really see the whole French Resistance thing coming, at least not right away. This book is fresh and fun with a great cast of characters… And that makes for an enjoyable read.