The Midwife's Apprentice 1996 Medal Winner *****

With no memory of a family or even her own name, a little girl is found in dung pile trying to keep warm by a midwife. She names her Dung Beetle and offers to make her an apprentice. Dung Beetle, later called Alyce, learns hard lessons of life as she tries to make the midwife happy so that she can have a warm place to stay and food to eat, two things she had never recalls having for the past 12 or 13 years of her life. Alyce laters runs away because of her feelings of failure and becomes an inn keeper's helper until the midwife comes to the inn. Alyce struggles to overcome feelings of guilt and low self-confidence while trying to decide what she wants from life.

I really enjoyed this book. The story was simple to Crispin: Cross of Lead. I found myself frustrated that the author didn't place Alyce in a time or location until almost near the end of the book. Cushman gives many implicit clues but no real explicit ones. The front cover helped me know she was in medevial England. If a school teacher is reading this to his or her class, I recommend they start at the end of the book with Author's Note. This will help all be clear for the story. I loved Alyce's character arc, timeless principals for children of all ages. I recommend this book for grades 3 - 7.


The Family Under the Bridge 1959 Honor Book *****

The Calcet family has lost their father and as a result their home. A homeless man, Armand, takes pity on them and adopts them as his own. All they want for Christmas is a real home, but Father Christmas says he can't put a home on his donkey's back so they need to ask for something else. Armand decides that he's going to help the Calcet children get their only Christmas wish. He surpises even himself when he is able to provide them a home.
This is a delightful book. I'm surprised it hasn't been made into a Christmas movie, or maybe it has and I've just never seen it. This is a very quick read and definitely a feel-good story, especially during the Holiday season. I would recommend this for children in 4th to 6th grade.


The 21 Balloons 1948 Medal Winner ****

The 21 Balloons is a story of a man who decided to travel around the world in a hot air balloon. But one seagull changed all that, and his trip took a very different turn. Stranded on Krakatoa island just before the famous 1883 explosion, he meets 20 families who live quite comfortably in a society based on cuisine and eating out. He is later found alone, ill and traumatized. The whole world is anxious to hear his story, but he'll only tell it in San Francisco to his explorers club.

This is a fun book for children. The author states that he mixed truth with fiction with no attempt to separate the two. The book has several suspenseful moments which would make it fun as a read aloud in a classroom. I have to admit I'm now wanting to research Krakatoa and try to find exactly what did happen.


Rabbit Hill1945 Medal Winner **

Rabbit Hill is the story of a family of rabbits and their neighbors hoping that the New Folks moving into the empty home will plant a garden so that they'll have food to eat. The story focuses on their son Little Georgie and his adventures. The animals are shocked to discover that not only do the New Folks plant a garden, but believe in being kind to animals as well.

I tried to give this story the benefit of being 60+ plus years old when reading it, but it was still not very good. The other books written in this decade that I have read are much more compelling. I just couldn't seem to get past the fact that these rabbits are able to build a home, can food, make soup, sew clothes, write letters, but unable to grow a garden? This fact might have been overlooked by children six decades ago, but I think kids today wouldn't willingly suspend their belief that these animals can't feed themselves. It's a harmless story and children who enjoy animals might like it.


Across Five Aprils 1965 Honor Book ****

Jethro Creighton lives in Southern Illinois with is parents and sister. His brothers are off to fight a war to keep the country together. One brother is fighting on the Union side, and the other has joined the Rebs. This story follows the Creighton family across five Aprils and tells of the heartache and tragedy that the Civil War brought to so many families. They will face death, sickness, injury and many other losses before the war ends.

I found this book interesting but hard to stay engaged. I enjoyed most reading about Lincoln and how he was perceived throughout the war. I felt like I learned many aspects to the war that I didn't know before. For instance, Lincoln ran for re-election against a military general that had fired just a couple years before, and he wasn't even able to carry his own hometown. Some felt like Lincoln was doing too much, and others felt as though he hadn't done enough. He truly was between a rock and a hard place. The other interesting perspective on the war was seeing it through the eyes of the family. They didn't realize the magnitude of the war at the onset just like everyone else. As the war continues on, so does the devastation both physically and emotionally. I have greater appreciation for those willing to fight to keep this country together.

Graven Images 1983 Honor Book ***

Graven Images is a compilation of 3 short stories with a common theme. Each story has a graven image that a person or people rely on. Each story contains the supernatural and the use of both irony and light-hearted humor.

This book would be great for a classroom to invoke a discussion on how we worship "statues" in modern day. It was a quick read, I finished it during a plane ride. I found it fun but not too earth shattering. I think it would be find for a 4th, 5th, or 6th grade class to read.

Pictures of Hollis Woods 2003 Honor Book ****

Hollis Woods is a foster child that tends to run away. She finally finds a place where she feels like staying put. Interspersed between the chapters are different pictures of Hollis Woods. These pictures give us glimpses into her life before she met her new guardian Josie. As Josie's memory begins to deteriorate, Hollis must find a way to keep them together. Her solution? To runaway of course, only this time bringing Josie with her. Her destination is the one place she once felt like she was truly a part of a family, the Regan's summer home. As worried "Mustard woman" the social worker looks for her, Hollis for the first time begins to find herself.

This book is very reminiscent of The Great Gilly Hopkins only much more somber. I enjoyed reading it, and found myself looking forward to the next picture. While I enjoyed Gilly Hopkins more because of it's humor and colorful characters, I found this book interesting with a much more likeable protagonist and found myself rooting for her to find the family so has long desired.


Crispin: The Cross of Lead 2003 Medal Winner *****

Crispin: The Cross of Lead is a story set in 14th century England when the Feudal system was common among the villages. When Asta dies her son inherits a cross made of lead with words that he cannot read. He then accidentally overhears a conversation that changes the course of his life. Father Quinlen tells him his name is actually Crispin and promises to reveal the identity of his father but is murdered. With the cross as his sole possession and a half year's salary as bounty for his head he escapes the only place he has ever known and tries to make his way to a place where over 30,000 people live called a town. On his way he meets a tall large man, Bear who forces him to pledge Crispin's allegiance to him for the rest of his life. Together Bear and Crispin unravel the truth about Crispin and who he really is.

Avi is becoming one of my new favorite authors. He has this uncanny ability to transport you to another time and you actually think you are reading about a person who truly lived on this earth. When Avi talks about Crispin's experience climbing a set of stairs for the first time I was riveted. It never dawned on me how that would truly feel to someone who had never been higher than the ground. The story is compelling and moves very quickly. You don't want to skim a single paragraph. A great book for ages 4th grade and higher, even adults will have a difficult time putting this one down. The only reason I didn't give it 6 stars is because I was disappointed with the ending.


Fine White Dust 1987 Honor Book *****

Fine White Dust is about Pete's summer after his seventh grade year. This is the summer he meets the Man, who at first he think is an axe murderer. But when he discovers that he is actually a preacher and attends his Revival Meeting, he finds that the Man will change his life. Pete has always felt different from his parents and his best friend Rufus, an atheist. But the Man understands him and helps him become a born again Christian and even asks him to leave everything behind to follow him.

This book grabbed me on the very first page and that's hard to do. I loved the foreshadowing using the fine white dust and the similes the author used throughout the book. I read it in just a few short hours. I wouldn't recommend this book for anyone younger than junior high, but this would be an amazing book to use for a book report or a literary review exercise in high school English.

My fourteen year old-son read this book and he was surprised I liked it as much as I did. He thought I should have only given it two stars.


Island of the Blue Dolphins 1961 Medal Winner ******

Island of the Blue Dolphins is based on the true story of an American Indian woman named Karana who was found living alone on an island off the coast of California. During an evacuation of her tribe, she jumped ship in order to be with her brother who shortly died thereafter. This book tells how Karana found shelter, clothes, food, companionship and serenity while living alone on the Island of the Blue Dolphins.

I listened to this book on a Playaway read by Tantoo Cardinal and she did an amazing job. Her voice is calm and soothing, exactly how I imagine Karana's voice to sound. This was one of those books that some how stayed under my radar during my childhood years, and all my friends are shocked I had never read it. Now I am too, how did I miss reading what in 1976 was considered in the top 10 books from the last 200 years. While I can't imagine living 18 years in solitude, this book does help me realize that it's possible. This is a definite must read for all children.

Yolanda's Genius 1996 Honor Book *****

Yolanda's Genius is the story of a 5th grader who is big for her age and loves to learn and share what she knows with others. One day someone asks her if she's a genius. She looks the word up in the dictionary and discovers that she's not a genius her brother is. He has a unusual gift for music and when his harmonica is ruined she decides she's going to discover a way to bring music back into his life.

This was such a sweet and tender story about a sister and brother. Just about any 5th grader will a feel a little of Yolanda inside of them, whether big or small. Fifth grade seems to be about the time that children realize each other's differences and the need to feel accepted in spite of them. This book would be perfect for any child who may have an usual physical feature or talent. Definitely a read aloud for a fifth grade class.


Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush 1983 Honor Book *

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush is about a 14 year old girl named Tree who is left to care for her retarded brother Dab for days at a time while her mother works and dates her boyfriend. Unbeknownst to her Dab suffers from a rare disease that becomes acute when one takes drugs or drinks alcohol. Dab has been using barbiturates and becoming increasingly ill. Tree's dead uncle, Brother whom she never knew existed appears to her as a ghost and has her enter a magical mirror where she learns that her father isn't really dead but abandoned her family, her uncle didn't die in a car accident but committed suicide, and that her mother used to beat her brother and tie him up. Her mother finally returns home and find Dab extremely ill, they get him to the hospital just in time to run up a big bill before he dies. So she must leave again to work off the debt and brings in a homeless woman to live with Tree who moves into Dab's room less than 24 hours after his death.

If my wonderful summary of the book doesn't give it away I'll tell you straight out. I hated this book! Anyone reading this review should shower me with gifts and thank you cards for reading this book so that they don't have to go anywhere near it. Not only is it confusing and strange, it's inappropiate for children, and I question how valuable it even is for adults. Never I have a read a book that has caused me to consider a negative star system. I feel like finding the author and asking for compensation for time wasted reading this book. Either after reading 72 Newbery books I have no idea what it takes to be considered a Newbery, or somehow the judges that year were using the same barbiturates as Dab when choosing this book.


Miracles on Maple Hill 1957 Medal Winner *****

Miracles on Maple Hill is about a family that decides to fix up the mother's grandmother's old home on Maple Hill, and hopefully fix the family as well. The father is struggling to recover from being a prisoner of war during the Korean Conflict. Unable to find a job, he just wants to be left alone to work on the house. The children, Joe and Marly finish school back home and join their dad for the summer. Marly is impetuous and friendly and loves to meet new friends, exactly what her dad didn't want. Mr. Chris promises Marly one miracle a week on Maple Hill. When the family decides to live there all year, Marly gets to see lots of miracles.

I listened to this book on a Playaway now offered at my local library. I found all the different voices and sound effects distracting, but not enough to turn me off this book. What a delightful story. Mainly told through the eyes of little Marly, we see the wonders and beauty of nature through her perspective. When young adult issues like, war, POW, unemployment and financial hardship are too distant and hard to understand. All she knows is that Dad is grumpy and Mom is worried. Little did she the greatest miracle on Maple Hill would be getting her father again. This book would be a great story for a classroom, about 4th grade and up. Older children could talk about the more complex issues, but younger children can just sit back and learn everything involved in making maple syrup. I couldn't help but crave pancakes the entire time I was reading it.


Hoot 2003 Honor Book *****

Hoot is the story of Roy Eberhart who has just moved from Montana to Florida. Immediately the bully singles him out as an easy target. While trying to avoid Dana's punches he becomes fascinated with a boy he sees running through the streets who should obviously be in school. Meanwhile, Officer Delenko struggles to find out who the vandals are messing up the empty lot and delaying the building of another Mother Paula's Pancake House. Soon Roy discovers something even more helpless than he whose lives are in danger.

Any book that mentions both Bozeman, Montana (where I was born) and Las Cruces, New Mexico (where I was raised) has got to be good! I listened to this book on CD read by Chad Lowe. He did an amazing job. I would listen to a book read by him any day. Roy is a likeable character without being too goody goody. The stories are sweet but real and with lots and lots of humor. I recommend this book for all young ages. Even my 13 year old son asked to take the CDs into his room so that he could listen to them as fell asleep. Great read aloud book!


The Black Pearl 1968 Honor Book ***

The Black Pearl tells the story of a young boy whose father owns a fleet of ships to find pearls in the ocean. When Ramon finds a rare and expensive black pearl, his father decides to donate it to the Catholic church in town. When tragedy soon strikes, some begin to wonder if the pearl is possibly cursed, and Ramon decides to break the curse himself.

This book is very short, but for some reason I really had a hard time getting through it. I easily was confused even though the writing style is simple and easily understood. My husband who rarely reads fiction, read it in just a couple of hours, whereas I took many nights to finish it. Even though the summary tells us that Ramon finds the Black Pearl, it doesn't happen until the book is half way finished. I found myself getting ancy thinking, "When does he find the pearl?" For being such a critical event to the whole story, I thought it should have happened sooner. I think young boys would enjoy this book because of the adventure and suspense. Probably 4th or 5th grade.


My Brother Sam is Dead 1975 Honor Book ****

My Brother Sam is Dead tells the story of the Revolutionary war through the eyes of Tim Meeker, a young boy whose brother Sam has left the Yale and his family to fight with the Rebels. Tim can't decide if he's a Tory (sympathizer with the British) or wants to see America a free country. Ultimately the decision doesn't matter as life gets more difficult and the war continues on.

Growing up American, everything I've ever heard about the Revolutionary War has been through the eyes of brave, strong Patriots who fought tooth and limb for our freedom. This book has helped me see there is a whole other side to the story. There were towns of colonists who were just fine under British rule and didn't see a need for independence. Yet they had to make sacrifices too, for a country they didn't even believe in. I've always seen Tories as unpatriotic ignorant old people whose love for the Mother Country would never die. My opinion of them have changed as a result of this book. I think every student studying U.S. history should read this book. It will help them gain a deeper appreciation for their freedom, it will help them see there are two sides to every story, and hopefully it will help them see that war is not the best solution to a problem.


Slave Dancer 1974 Medal Winner ***

The Slave Dancer tells the story of Jessie who is kidnapped in New Orleans because he can play a fife. He discovers that his talent is used to "dance the slaves" to keep their muscles strong for when they are sold. Jessie sees first hand the horrors of the slave trade industry and wonders if there is anything he can do to personally stop the practice.

The Slave Dancer is a compelling story, but in my opinion too graphic for children. I think it's important that we learn the horrors of slave ships, but at not too young of an age. There are some very violent and graphic scenes that describe death of both crewmen and slaves alike. I appreciated the authors obvious research and telling this story through the eyes of a young adult who didn't want to be there.


The Long Winter 1941 Honor Book *****

The Long Winter tells the story of the Ingalls family the year they were literally snowed in their cabin. They ran out of food, fuel and energy. This book gives a detailed account of what the family had to do to survive the long winter.

I remember reading this book one summer in Arizona enjoying 110+ degree heat and literally shivering as I read. I couldn't put it down, I felt like every time I did I was leaving the family to starve. Laura did a great job explaining how easily it can be to get in such a predicament. After finishing this book I began looking at my resources differently and trying to see how much I can live without, instead of with. I can honestly say that this is one of the few books that I have read that has truly changed my life and view of the world. I think this is appropiate for all ages.


The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 1996 Honor Book ****

The Watsons are known as the "Weird Watsons". Kenny tells stories about his family's trip to see their maternal grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama. His parents want to leave his older brother Byron there to live with his grandma because he's such a trouble maker. They arrive to experience first hand the tensions between whites and blacks. Kenny witnesses an event so horrible he wonders if he'll ever be the same.

This book is similar to the author's other newbery, Bud, Not Buddy. While told in a humorous and light-hearted way, the author does a compelling job showing what life was like before the human rights bill was signed in 1964. I laughed out loud, and also stopped to pay close attention. I fell in love with the Watsons. Because of the tragic death at the end, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone younger than ten years old.

The House of the Scorpion 2003 Honor Book ***

The House of the Scorpion is a science fiction based in the future. Mexico no longer exists, there is now Opium a country that borders the U.S. and Aztlan. Just as many people are immigrating to Aztlan as the U.S., but get caught in the middle in Opium. Matt is a clone of El Patron the leader of the country. Unlike other clones, his brains haven't been ruined and he's able to learn, communicate and even play the piano. As he ages he slowly comes to understand his real realtionship with the 148 year old leader of the country and what he must do to make a life for himself.

As a former molecular biologist, I really like genetic thrillers. Having created plant clones myself, I love to think about how our world would be different if we could make human clones. Not that I think we should, but some days I wish I had a clone to clean the bathrooms! I think this book would be hard for younger children to followalthough those in junior high or school would really like it. The last section of the book does seem to drag on a bit, I wish the author hadn't spent so much time with the Keepers.


An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 2004 Honor Book ***

An American Plague: The True and Terrifying Story of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 is an account of the events during the plague that hit the nation's capital at the time, Philadelphia. This plague was so devastating that it essentially shut down the federal government. The author Jim Murphy chronicles the events using documenations, pictures and vivid descriptions.

I found this book to be fascinating but not appropiate for children. Some of the accounts are graphic and disturbing. I think a high school student could handle the information, but I wouldn't go much younger than that. Interestingly former slaves from Africa and West Indies were immunized because they had had it children in their homeland. This put them in the perfect position to truly serve the community and try to help the sick and dying. How they were treated after the epidemic is truly tragic.

A Corner of the Universe 2003 Honor Book ***

A Corner of the Universe is about 11 year-old Hattie Owen. Its summer in 1960 and Hattie is shy with few friends and just like to be at home with her parents. She's shocked to discover that she actually has a 21 year-old uncle, Adam, who no one has ever told her about. He's coming home for the summer because the school where lived has shut down. Adam is mentally challenged and needs to find a new school. Hattie learns much from Adam as she's able to look past his challenges and see his heart inside.

This is actually a very touching story with flavorful characters and stories. I listened to it on CD and Judith Ivey did a fantastic job as the various people. Her interpretation of Adam made me stop whatever I was doing to listen. This book does have some deep subjects however and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone under 12 and think it would be best for an older teenager.


Millions of Cats 1929 Honor Book **

Millions of Cats is about an old man and his wife who wanted a cat. He can't decide between the millions of cats so he brings them all home. They then let the cats decide which one can stay.

I'm not a fan of cats, and I didn't really get this book. It's a short read and small children might enjoy it.

Surviving the Applewhites 2003 Honor Book ****

Jake Semple's parents are both in jail, he burned down a middle school and now as a last resort has to live with the Applewhites, a free-thinking family who run the Creative Academy. The Creative Academy is unlike any other school Jake has ever seen. No homework, no teachers, and you write your own curriculum. E.D. is supposed to share her curriculum with Jake. E.D. is nothing like the other Applewhites, she likes order, routine and predictability, certainly hard to come by living at Wit's End, the Applewhite's farm. Pretty soon chaos moves to catastrophe when the father decides to direct "The Sound of Music" and tries to break out of the norm by casting every race and color as the von Trapp family. Soon both Jake and E.D. discover even they have talents that can be appreciated in an extremely unconventional family.

What a unique and fun book. Definitely a great classroom read for 4th grade and up. The chapters alternate between E.D's and Jake's point of view. The author did a great job with dialog, I could hear the different voices and fluctuations automatically. I found it difficult to put down and finished in a just few days. A great story for any teenage boy or girl to read that is headed down the path of "goth".


Everything on a Waffle 2002 Honor Book ******

Primrose Squarp's parents are lost at sea and everyone believes they have died, except Primrose. Her mother left behind a recipe for apricot glazed carrots and a grocery list, so Primrose decides to begin a recipe collection, and collect many amazing experiences along the way.

I absolutely loved this book. Definitely the perfect read aloud for a classroom. At first when it mentioned the death of Primrose's parents, I thought, "Oh no! not again." But the style is more like Junie B. Jones, only her spelling and grammar has improved. I can't wait to run to the bookstore to buy a copy of this book, if for just the recipes alone! It's been a very long time since I've gotten so excited about a book. You can't help but fall in love with Primrose and everyone at Coal Harbour.