Newbery Verdict: The Year of Billy Miller

The Year of Billy Miller // by Kevin Henkes (2013)

year-billy-millerNewbery Honor Book (2014)
Genre: Lower MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic Plot: Billy Miller is starting second grade. When he has a fall and gets a bump on his head, he begins to worry that he’s not quite smart enough for school. And so begins the year where Billy tries to figure out what makes him Billy…

MY THOUGHTS…

So this is the author of some wonderful picture book characters, like Lily (of purple plastic purse fame). Kevin Henkes does a really nice job with Billy Miller and his family. I love his family! He has such a creative and sympathetic Papa! (Although, Billy thinks that he’s getting a little too old to be calling his Papa and begins to call him “Dad”.) I really enjoyed how Billy inspires Papa when he’s feeling down about his work.

One of my favourite parts is when Billy and his sister try to stay up all night. 3-year-old Sal wants to play with her dolls. Billy has no interest in playing with the dolls, but he feels that if he wants Sal to stay awake, he better do what she suggests. THEN, he plays with the dolls by creating an explosion! (Typical boy!) Suffice it to say that Sal isn’t impressed. But the two of them end up working it all out. 🙂

NEWBERY VERDICT…

For a lower grade book, this story is fun with a lot of endearing characters. I can definitely see why they gave this book 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.

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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.

Newbery Verdict: The Egypt Game

The Egypt Game // by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1967)

egypt-game.jpgNewbery Honor Book (1968)
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: When April meets Melanie and her brother… that’s when the Egypt Game begins. It starts off pretty simple, just an empty lot and a lot of imagination. And then the boys come and join the fun. But there’s danger in the neighbourhood. And somebody has their eyes on the children. Nobody notices except Melanie’s brother, four-year-old Marshall.

MY THOUGHTS…

I love the imaginative play and creativity of these kids… how they immerse themselves into this whole land of Egypt. I love how the boys will have nothing to do with the girls at school, but are totally into the game as soon as they’re out of sight of their peers.

One of the best parts of this book is watching the friendship develop. First we see April and Melanie, but that circle quickly widens to involve Elizabeth, and then Ken and Toby. (And I love how Ken just doesn’t quite get the whole Egypt thing, but he’s here anyway!) There’s more to this theme, but I won’t spoil it. And I particularly enjoyed the character arc of April.

And this book has one of the best ending lines ever. I won’t spoil it, but it’s quite genius!

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

“But as the Egypt Game became second nature to its six participants, and they began to feel more and more at home in the land of Egypt, they gradually began to forget about being cautious. Ceremonies, discussions and arguments began to be carried on in normal or even louder than normal tones, and no one stopped to worry about being overheard.”

(Chapter 15)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

So the Newbery winner for this year (1968) was From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. Oh, boy. Both these books are SO good. In fact, I would have had a very hard time choosing between the two. My gut tells me that they chose the right book, but man, The Egypt Game really is a close second!

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.

Newbery Verdict: The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars // by Gary D. Schmidt

wednesday-warsNewbery Honor Book (2008)
Genre: Upper MG, Historical Fiction (1960s)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Holling Hoodhood is the only kid in class who doesn’t have catechism or bar mitzvah lessons on Wednesdays. This means he’s stuck in school with his teacher. And guess what? She’s not exactly keen on having Holling there, and he’s convinced that she’s out to get him. This is confirmed when she assigns him the task of reading Shakespeare. And so begin the Wednesday Wars.

MY THOUGHTS…

This is the story of a boy and his teacher and how their relationship blossoms. One of the best scenes is when Holling suggests they come up with a code so that he knows he’s doing something right. Her response is to basically roll her eyes.

I love all the Shakespeare references. It’s fun how this extends to Holling’s life beyond the classroom, when he finds himself in the theatrical production of The Tempest. Of course, this fact gives us no shortage of conflict involving the school bully and yellow feathers.

The title of this book is spot on. The Wednesday Wars brings out the themes of the war between Holling and his teacher; the war between Holling and his sister; between Holling and his dad; between the dad and the rival architect; and of course, the Vietnam War itself since this is a book set in the 1960s.

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

“No teacher jokes,” I said. “No one ever laughs at teacher jokes.”

“All right… No teacher jokes.” …

“And no rolling your eyes, even if someone says something really stupid.”

“I never roll my eyes,” said Mrs. Baker.

I looked at her.

“All right,” she said. “No rolling eyes. Anything else, coach?”

“When someone does something good, I think you should let them know, with some sort of code.”

“I think you mean that when someone does something well–as in obeying the rules of proper diction–we should use a code. What do you suggest?”

“Well, maybe ‘Azalea’ for something good, and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for something really good.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hoodhood. We’ll dispense with the code, and I’ll simply use the unvarnished English language to tell you when you’ve done something well. But as to teacher jokes, folding of arms, and rolling of eyes, I’ll consider your advice.”

(Chapter – March)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

My rating is 4.5 Stars (out of 5) – When I first read this book about 10 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never read anything by this author before. And I loved it! The Newbery Winner that year (2008) was Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz. I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment. But another Newbery Honor for 2008 was Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (which I have read; and also love). If I had been one of the Newbery decision-makers that year, I’d have had a hard time choosing between those two books!

By the way, there’s a companion book to this one called Okay for Now, which features Holling’s friend: Doug Swieteck. You can read my review here.

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.

Newbery Verdict: Gone Away Lake

Gone Away Lake // by Elizabeth Enright

gone-awayNewbery Honor Book (1958)
Genre: MG, Contemporary (Historical)
Rating: 2.5 Stars*

(Note: *Sorry, Elizabeth Enright, I usually LOVE your books, but I just couldn’t love this one. Although, I think that I’d probably have given it a higher rating if I were a kid reading it.)

Basic Plot: Portia and Foster are a sister and brother, who along with their cousin, Julian, discover secrets of a forgotten lake-side community called Gone-Away Lake.

MY THOUGHTS…

Gone-Away Lake and the old houses are uber-cool! As a child, I would have really liked this and as an adult I did. Bonus points! I liked Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton who were a little like Miss Havisham, but in a good way. I enjoyed the old stories about the people who summered at the lake. Rescuing the cats. The Philosopher’s stone. These stories in themselves are worth the read.

However, I wasn’t crazy about the main characters. I didn’t hate them, but I didn’t love them either. Then when the grown-ups come in, some of the magic disappeared. (And I’m not talking about the Gone-Away grown-ups).

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

Portia and Julian drew in a breath of surprise at exactly the same instant, because at the northeast end of the swamp, between the reeds and the woods, and quite near to them, they saw a row of wrecked old houses. There were perhaps a dozen of them; all large and shabby, though once they must have been quite elaborate, adorned as they were with balconies, turrets, widows’ walks, and lacy wooden trimming. But now the balconies were sagging and the turrets tipsy; the shutters were crooked or gone, and large sections of wooden trimming had broken off. There was a tree sticking out of one of the windows, not into it but out of it. And everything was as still as death.

“Now who would go and build a lot of houses on the edge of a mosquitoey old swamp like that?” inquired Julian. But the next time he spoke it was in a whisper. “Porsh! Those houses are empty! They’re all deserted, Porsh! It’s a ghost town.”

(Chapter 2)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This book was published in 1958. I hate to say that I don’t think it has aged very well. I love, love, love this author’s The Saturdays (and its sequels). I wish I could say the same for this book. That said, I do think I probably would have loved reading it as a child, just because of the old, abandoned ghost town. However, the mark of a truly great children’s book is for an adult to pick it up and love it (despite not being a child anymore). Did I just read this book too late??

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Did you read this a kid? Did you love it? Am I being too harsh on this book? 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.

Newbery Verdict: Paperboy

Paperboy // by Vince Vawter

Newbery Honor Book (2014)
Genre: Upper MG, Coming-of-Age (Historical)
Rating: 4.5 Stars

Basic Plot: A coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old boy who takes his friend’s paper route for a month in the summer. His greatest struggle: overcoming a debilitating stutter.

MY THOUGHTS…

I’m usually a stickler for proper grammar. This book does not use quotation marks for dialogue and very little commas. This would normally drive me nuts! But in the case of this book, I am fine with it. It’s all part of the characterization of the protagonist.

As a kid, I struggled with a slight stuttering problem. I don’t stutter now, by I remember the struggle to get those words out. In the book, the boy can’t even say his best friend’s name (Art) and calls him “Rat” instead. I loved the relationship between the boy and his Mam. She was wonderful! Especially in how she made him comfortable to let his words come out in their own way. And ditto for Mr. Spiro… He treats the boy like a real person and helps him gain confidence. (And all those books in Mr. Spiro’s house? A dream come true!)

I love the fact that we don’t get the boy’s name until the end of the story. Again, because of plot reasons.

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

This is a scene were the boy has stopped to visit with one of his newspaper customers: Mr. Spiro. He is blown away by the fact that he sees “Books. Hundreds. Thousands. Wall to wall. Floor to ceiling.” (I love it when books feature books!)

Mr. Spiro got up from his chair and walked around the room and put his hand on different crates.

English fiction. Russian fiction. The Medievals, Shakespeare. Biographies. Politics. Science, both modern and classical. Geology. I find myself fascinated by the study of landmasses. No doubt because of so much time spent bobbing up and down at sea.

I got up and walked around the room from crate to crate. The books were old and worn and most had pieces of paper sticking out the top.

s-s-s-s-Do you have s-s-s-s-p…?

Poetry was a word I always had trouble saying but I was going to blast it out of my mouth if that was what it took.

Do you have S-S-S-S-POETRY BOOKS?

(Chapter Eight)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

I love, love, love this book! It definitely earned its Newbery Honor award. It’s only a few years old, yet I feel like I read this a long time ago… I’ve actually already done a re-read of this book. That’s how good it is! I feel like it’s been around forever. The award winner that year was Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. Since I haven’t read that book, I can’t tell you if I think it should have beat out this book or not.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Do you think it deserved the Newbery? 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.