Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson: Part 4

Our Mock Newbery list stretched readers to try out books they may not have been drawn to initially. Two historical fiction books particularly struck our readers: Duke, set during World War II, and One Came Home, set in rural Wisconsin in 1871.
by Kirby Larson
Scholastic, 2013
ages 8-12
*best new book*
your public library
Hobie Hanson misses his dad who's away flying fighter planes in World War II, but he tries to think about what he can do to help the war effort. Sure, he can buy war stamps and help collect tin and rubber to recycle. But his mettle is truly tested when he decides to donate his beloved German shepherd, Duke, to Dogs for Defense.

Our students often connect to animal stories, especially ones about pets, so I was happy to include Duke in our selection. It was also very important to me to include a story with a boy as the main character. In this video, author Kirby Larson talks about her passion writing this story.

Students noted that the setting is a definite strength in Duke. Larson incorporates historical details in a way that really place you in the time -- from the cookies Hobie ate to the radio shows he listened to. These details helped us understand just why Hobie would do something as difficult as send away his beloved dog.

Some students felt that the characters could have been fleshed out a little more. Bella talked about how she wished the story was written from Hobie's first person perspective (don't you love it the way our kids are talking in these writerly terms!!). We got into a great discussion comparing the perspectives in Duke, Flora & Ulysses and Serafina's Promise. Others also noticed that the secondary characters did not come to life as much as they did in Flora & Ulysses. Mitch was clearly a bully, but he wasn't really distinct as a character. Nonetheless, the plot, setting and themes resonated to keep Duke a real favorite of our group.
One Came Home
by Amy Timberlake
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2013
ages 9-13
your public library
One Came Home starts off with punch, but then slowly builds the setting and situation, reeling you in.
"'So it comes to this,' I remember thinking on Wednesday, June 7, 1871. The date sticks in my mind because it was the day of my sister's first funeral and I knew it wasn't her last--which is why I left."
Thirteen-year-old Georgie goes heads out of town to search for her sister Agatha, even though everyone else believes she's dead. After all, they found a body wearing her dress.

Our Mock Newbery club felt Timberlake's plot and pacing were certainly distinguished. As Bella E. said,
"It really laid out the plot so you got to understand the character and why she had to figure out this mystery. Then her personality made the things she did more realistic."
Naomi and Natalie particularly liked the plot twists that kept you guessing. Overall, the kids felt that the setting, with its focus on pigeoning, was a bit confusing at times and didn't add to the story as much as in Serafina's Promise. I remember some had trouble getting into One Came Home and understanding the set up of the mystery. I think they got hooked on the story once Georgie leaves in search of Agatha and has to figure out the mystery on her own.

I particularly like this trailer, made by Melissa McAvoy, a friend and fellow librarian:

Many thanks to Random House 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

1 comment:

  1. Great posts, Mary Ann. These are two of my favorites of the past year. Kirby Larson's writing is guaranteed to win my heart. I also wrote about DUKE on a recent post: