Monday, January 20, 2014

Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson: Part 5

Our students noted three books for their character development: Counting by 7s, The Real Boy and Jinx. The characters in each of these books spoke to our students and stretched their thinking. I also noticed how discussions about the characters often turned into deeper discussions about theme, another important element that the Newbery Committee will consider.
Counting By 7s
Dial / Penguin, 2013
ages 9-14
Twelve year-old Willow Chance is a character who bore her way into our readers' hearts. "Ms. Scheuer, Ms. Scheuer! You have to add Counting by 7s to our Newbery list!!"

Willow has trouble making friends and feels most comfortable at home. When we meet her, she's just starting sessions with a hapless school counselor, Dell Duke. Suddenly, a car crash kills both of Willow's parents and she's left totally alone. Willow is with Dell and another one of his students, Mai, when she finds out.

Sloan brings us right into Willow's perspective through first person narrative. This is what we read when Willow hears about her parents:
"My teeth start to chatter.
I want to shut my eyes and make everything stop.
I no longer care if my heart pounds in my chest or if my lungs move."
One of the things I liked best about this novel is how each of the characters changed, and how each person impacted the people around them. They all start off living very isolated lives, but by the end they have come together as a family.

At times, I wondered if Willow actually sounded like a twelve year old child, but she was very convincing to my students. She's a character who will stay with them in their hearts for a long time.
The Real Boy
by Anne Ursu
Walden Pond Press / HarperCollins, 2013
ages 9-12
*best new book*
your local library
Oscar is another isolated character who found his way into our readers' hearts, this time in a fantasy setting with many echoes of a classic hero's journey. Oscar's world falls apart when his master, the magician Caleb, is killed and people look to Oscar to continue supplying herbs and potions to cure them.

I wish I had taken more notes during my talks with Julia about The Real Boy. She's a thoughtful, soft-spoken reader who is passionate that "more people need to read The Real Boy!" Her observations deepened my appreciation of this book, especially for Oscar's courage and inner-strength. At times, I had trouble following all of the twists in the plot, but Julia was taken right into Oscar's fully realized world.
by Sage Blackwood
HarperCollins, 2013
ages 9-12
*best new book*
your local library
Jinx is another character who's an outsider in his world, an orphan who must find his own way. Noticing any themes here? It's a common one in middle grade literature--kids can certainly relate to those feelings. All three of these characters find their inner strength, connecting to a friend who proves an important ally.

Jinx is a more fast-paced fantasy than The Real Boy, and it appealed to our readers who love exciting stories. They loved the magic and danger in Jinx's world, as he battled the evil wizard known as the Bonemaster. I imagine the underlying environmental themes also appealed to our readers, although they did not say that. Instead, they talked about liking a world where the trees could talk to us and tell us how they were feeling.

When I read Jinx, I was struck that some of the dialog seemed too colloquial, but this did not bother any of our students. They were swept away by this exciting fantasy and are eagerly awaiting the sequel, Jinx's Magic.

Each of these books had its champions in our group, and none had enough readers to really engage in a full discussion. In just three months, I could only ask our readers to commit to reading five books. While the Newbery Committee will certainly read each of the titles on their list, I'm sure that some will receive more discussion than others.

Many thanks to Penguin and Harper Collins 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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