Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson: Part 2

You know what's one of the best things? Listening to a kid talk about how excited she is reading a book, and then watching three others want to try it out themselves. Best thing in the world.

Our book club started off in September excited to read "for the Newbery", seeing what they thought of the best books that were published this year. Two early favorites were Flora & Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo, and "The President Has Been Shot!", by James Swanson.
Flora and Ulysses:
The Illuminated Adventures
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by K.G. Campbell
Candlewick, 2013
ages 8-12
your public library
*best new book*
Within a week of launching into our Newbery reading, kids came bounding into the library raving about Flora and Ulysses. They loved it from the get-go and convinced friends to try it out. As Flora would say, "Holy bagumba! It was a hit!" But why, we wondered?

Although Flora claims to be a cynic, it's clear that she has a true heart and good spirit from the moment that she rescues the squirrel from its catastrophic encounter with a powerful vacuum cleaner. She is, most certainly, a hero we're rooting for. Kids like her. They like her spunk, her bravery, her observations.

Students loved that it was full of unexpected and unrealistic moments. Bella E. said that she liked the fact the squirrel crashed into the window because it makes the story more realistic. She also noted how well DiCamillo played the scene for humor as well. And yet, others noted, it was full of very realistic relationships and emotions. Julia said,
"You thought it would be just all wacky and silly, but it was actually deeper than I thought it was going to be."
The supporting characters were definitely a highlight for many of our readers. Several mentioned William Spiver, Flora's quirky neighbor. They liked the way he was fleshed out as a character, even though he wasn't a main character.

The big question will be whether Flora & Ulysses stays with our readers through all the other reading they do.
"The President Has Been Shot!":
The assassination of John F. Kennedy
by James L. Swanson
Scholastic, 2013
ages 9-14
your local library
*best new book*
Swanson adapted his adult nonfiction account of Kennedy's assassination, End of Days, for a young adult audience. Our readers were very impressed by the balance of facts and drama in this account of this pivotal event. As Bella N. said,
"I felt that even though it was nonfiction, it wasn’t just a list of facts. Usually I really don’t like nonfiction. But this was like a story."
Swanson begins with a relatively brief introduction, encapsulating Kennedy's rise to power and the key moments of his presidency. The focus quickly shifts to Kennedy's final days. Swanson deftly moves from Kennedy's travels to Dallas and desire to ride in an open-top car, to Lee Harvey Oswald's background and how it might have created motive. Throughout, Swanson presents photographs, diagrams and different accounts of what happened to lead to this moment.

All our book club members agreed that the strength of this book was in the different perspectives Swanson considered. One moment, readers are taken right to the window where Lee Harvey Oswald peered out, overlooking the parade route. The next moment, we are standing next to an observer as he is filming the parade on his home movie camera. Swanson brings readers right into these scenes, while keeping the pace of the story going.

We were all surprised how exciting the story was, especially since you know the outcome. Swanson's gripping storytelling hooked many readers. Ben said, "This was really fast paced. I read it super-quickly because I just didn’t want to put it down. It was a really interesting story."

I raised my concern that Swanson clearly admires John and Jackie Kennedy so much that his writing moves away from unbiased reporting to gushing praise, but our fifth graders felt that the dramatic writing was a more important quality to consider. Hmm...

More to come!

Many thanks to Candlewick and Scholastic for sharing review copies with us. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books (at no cost to you!). Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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