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

Newbery Verdict: Dear Mr. Henshaw

dear-mr-henshawDear Mr. Henshaw // by Beverly Cleary (1983)

Newbery Winner (1984)
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Epistolary
Rating: 5 Stars

Basic Plot: Leigh Botts loves the book Ways to Amuse a Dog so much that he decides to write the author: Mr. Henshaw. Through a series of letters (and later a diary), Leigh finds an outlet to work through his problems that range from a lunch-thief to his absentee dad.

MY THOUGHTS…

This is probably my second read-through of this book. And while I knew the ending, I found this book just as interesting to read this second time around. (For some odd reason, I never read Beverly Cleary’s books when I was a kid. Yes, I saw them everywhere, but for some reason, I never picked them up. Not until I was an adult!)

I love a good epistolary novel… when it works. And this one works very nicely. My favourite letter is the first one, which reads as follows:

Dear Mr. Henshaw,
My teacher read your book about the dog to our class. It was funny. We licked it.
Your friend,
Leigh Botts (boy)

I love how Cleary is able to capture the voice of this boy, misspellings and all. Another section I really enjoyed was when Leigh gives Mr. Henshaw a list of questions, and Mr. Henshaw replies with a list of his own questions… which Leigh does NOT want to answer! But, of course, his mom makes him.

I like how it also deals with the hard topics in Leigh’s life, like the divorce of his parents. Now, I like a book where divorced parents get back together (Parent Trap, anybody?) And of course, that is Leigh’s own wish. While the ending of this book does present this as an option, it remains realistic. Most couples don’t get back together. As Leigh says in the final line: “I felt sad and a whole lot better at the same time.”

NEWBERY VERDICT…

This book deserved every inch of its Newbery award. It’s wonderfully written, has a likable protagonist. And yes, I licked it very much. (P.S. Now I want to read Mr. Henshaw’s books, but for some reason, I can’t find them anywhere!)

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: Thimble Summer

Thimble Summer // by Elizabeth Enright (1938)

Winner of the Newbery Award (1939)
Genre: MG, Contemporary/Historical
Rating: 3.5 Stars

thimble-summerBasic Plot: When Garnet finds a silver thimble on their farm, that’s when the adventures begin. From raising a piglet for the county fair to being locked inside the library to hitchhiking by herself into town… Garnet finds her summer to be magical.

MY THOUGHTS…

I know I would have absolutely loved this book as a child! As an adult, I did find it enjoyable, but not perfect. I wished the thimble was a little more prominent throughout the story.

One of my favourite scenes was when Garnet and her friend are locked in the library. This is both my dream and my nightmare! I also love how she hitchhikes over to the next town because she’s so angry with her family (particularly Jay, her brother) and then she buys them all little gifts. And the scene with the chickens! It was cute how she names the chicken, Bnnhilde. And the neighbour, Mr. Freebody! One of my favourite characters 🙂

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

“Yes sir!” said Mr. Freebody coming in the door. “Don’t you be fooled! Those ain’t two little girls you see settin’ up there; those are two genuwine bookworms, couldn’t stop reading long enough to come home. Planning to take up permanent residence in the liberry from now on, ain’tcha?”

(Chapter V)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

A sweet and fun Newbery winner for 1939. This book is a bit of the Little House books meets Charlotte’s Web (sans the spider). While I did enjoy reading this book, I still like Enright’s book The Saturdays better. (Alas, The Saturdays didn’t even get nominated for a Newbery!)

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 Higher Power of Lucky

The Higher Power of Lucky // by Susan Patron

higherpoweroflucky1.jpgWinner of the Newbery Award (2007)
Genre: MG, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic Plot: Ten-year-old Lucky lives in Hard Pan, California, population 43. Her mother has died and Brigitte has come from France to be her temporary guardian. It’s Lucky’s job to clean up after all the twelve-step anonymous programs, so she finds herself eavesdropping on their meetings and hearing the stories of how they hit rock bottom, only to find their Higher Power. That’s when she realizes she wants to find her own Higher Power.

MY THOUGHTS…

I really liked the town with all its quirky characters. Everybody from Lucky, Lincoln, and Miles to Short Sammy, Dot, and Brigitte. I thought Susan Patron captured this very well. Especially all those twelve-step anonymous programs on which Lucky eavesdrops! I particularly liked how she portrayed Miles and his obsession with the book Are You My Mother? …and how that connects to the search for his own mother… which is connects to Lucky’s own search for a mother. (I also happen to really like Are You My Mother? I love it when books are referenced in books! 🙂 )

I thought the ending wasn’t set up quite as well as it could have been. I actually had to go back and re-read it. Which means it didn’t have that cathartic feeling that it should have had. I mean, I saw how the situation with Brigitte was going to pan out. But that just made me think Lucky was totally over-reacting. I didn’t fully believe that this was enough to cause her to reach her rock bottom.

FAVOURITE QUOTE…

Miles is trying to get Lucky to read to him from his all-time favourite book, Are You My Mother?

Lucky had no time to be nice. “That book is wrecked,” she said. “It looks even worse now.”

Miles smoothed the duct tape. “It’s still fine inside,” he said. “Could you read it to me?”

“Miles, get a life. You already know the story by heart, and it’s boring.”

“No, it’s not! The part about the Snort is good, and so is the part where he finds his mother at the end.”

(Chapter 16)

NEWBERY VERDICT…

So… did it deserve the Newbery Award? Well, I happen to know that Rules by Cynthia Lord was also in the running for 2007. I really liked that book and I probably would have given it the Newbery instead. Not that I didn’t like this book. I would have given this book a Newbery Honor.

YOUR TURN…

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? What did you think of the ending? 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.