Now that the 2013 books are coming in, I may have to put my Newbery reading project to the side. I'm definitely hoping to make more progress with it this year, though. Luckily, the books are getting much better.
Given the time period in which it was written, I was quite surprised with Indian Captive (1942 Newbery Honor). Its saving grace is that it was written by Lois Lenski, whose regional fiction for children was based upon research and observation. Mary Jemison was 12 years old when she was captured by a Seneca tribe; her family was later killed. Jemison learned the Seneca language and customs; although she had chances to leave the tribe, she decided to remain within the community and married within the tribe. Although this is a highly fictionalized account, the portrayal of the Senecas is rather nuanced and positive (especially considering that this is a story about a kidnapped young girl). If you enjoy books set during pioneer/frontier days (this takes place during the French and Indian War), you would enjoy Indian Captive.
I find it interesting that The Matchlock Gun, Indian Captive, and Calico Bush (1932 Newbery Honor) are all set during the French and Indian War; there's no significant anniversary associated with that war during the years those books were published, so it's remarkable that three major books of these two decades featured it. Calico Bush is an intriguing yet frustrating read, mainly for the stereotypes associated with Native Americans that were prevalent at the time. On the other hand, the outward prejudice expressed toward the main character, Marguerite, is acutely felt by the young indentured servant. Marguerite is French and Catholic, which makes her suspect in the eyes of her employers' neighbors (and her employers as well) in colonial Maine. Although the family is quite comfortable, there is still hardship and heartbreak during these times. Again--fans of pioneer stories would enjoy this, but just be aware that it does reflect the prejudice of its time.
Once in a while, it's so nice to read a "comfort" read. A comfort read is a read in which, although there is plenty of drama, you're confident that everything will work out in the end. Rock On: A Story of Guitars, Gigs, Girls, and a Brother (Not Necessarily in That Order) is a delightful comfort read, although decidedly not a dorky read. Ori Taylor, high school sophomore and lead guitarist/singer for an unnamed garage band, has plenty on his plate: finding a bass player, preparing the band for the Battle of the Bands concert, and dealing with his suddenly moody older brother Del, who recently moved back home after dropping out of college. Del used to be an awesome big brother, but he sneers at Ori's band, flirts with girls he knows Ori is interested in, and makes Ori uneasy and nervous when he's performing. Interspersed between chapters are blog postings from the band's blog, which are fun and funny to read. References to technology and fads are sparse, but will end up dating the book fairly soon. No matter, for this is a fun and heartwarming read ideal for young YA fans. If you need "clean" YA fiction, consider this enjoyable read (there are a few mentions of making out, but that's about it).
I'm embarrassed to say that I had never read anything by Tracy Chevalier until I picked up The Last Runaway. For some reason, The Girl With the Pearl Earring and her other bestsellers have passed me by; I will have to rectify that some day, because The Last Runaway is such an engrossing story that I'm eager to discover her other works. Set among Quakers living in Ohio during the Civil War, this is a moving and thoughtful story about a young British-born Quaker woman involved in the Underground Railroad. Characters are three-dimensional, even the slave hunter, and the struggle for the American-born Quakers in dealing with their desire to not get on the wrong side of the law, versus their faith's teachings on slavery, is sensitively depicted. Fans of quilting novels would enjoy this, for quilting is a big aspect of the story (although it's not a "cozy read" like most traditional quilting novels). This is riveting historical fiction.
This may be blasphemy to say this, as a Virginia resident, but I enjoyed Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1946 Newbery Honor) even more than Misty of Chincoteague (which is a terrific read). Nobody thought Little Bub would be much of a horse, but young Joel Goss knows better. Joel jumps at schoolteacher Justin Morgan's request to break in the small colt; little did they know that Little Bub would be the fastest and strongest racehorse in the Northeast! Not only that, Little Bub becomes the sire of the famous Morgan horse breed. This is a charming (but not cloying) read set in post-Revolutionary War Vermont.
I'm going through the major "Best of 2012" lists and award winners; the young reader's edition of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind appeared on several lists, so I scooped it up. I love reading positive true stories from modern-day Africa, so this is right up my alley. When fourteen year old William's village in Malawi began to suffer crop failure due to the 2001 drought, William was forced to leave high school, for secondary education is not free. Determined not to let his education suffer, William spent his free time in the library established by foreign aid workers. When he stumbled upon a book about windmills, William figured out a way to bring electricity to his village, through building a windmill using scraps from the junkyard. Short enough to be read aloud, this is an inspiring story about the value of education, community, and hard work.
I'm currently going through the Spring 2013 announcements from Publishers Weekly via the Edelweiss database; this is going to be a tremendous reading season (and I haven't even seen the Fall 2013 sneak previews in the forthcoming print issue!). Not only do we have sequels to Bliss, Hattie Big Sky, and Scarlet coming up, but we have a four book series by Ann M. Martin to look forward to (set in Maine during the Depression), several books by Patricia MacLachlan, and for Fall 2013, a new novel by Kate DiCamillo (USA Today had a huge feature on DiCamillo recently--an interview and an excerpt, which makes me think that Candlewick is going to go gangbusters on this one. We haven't had a major novel from DiCamillo since 2009 because she's been writing her lovely Bink and Gollie and Mercy Watson short chapter series, so this is big news.). My February order cart is already overflowing--it's going to be hard to whittle it down!