I started a program at the school library called Nerdbery, inspired by a project of the same name that I found in a book called Reading in the Wild. Traditionally, Nerdbery projects require a reader to finish all of the Newbery winning books starting in 1922. In honor of my school’s 50th anniversary, I challenged the middle school to work together to read the Newbery winners going back to 1965. In January, I read three Newbery winners:
I started on New Year’s Day with Shadow of a Bull. This was the first book on our list, the 1965 winner. The book was written by Maia Wojciechowska, a woman with the most remarkable author bio that I’ve ever read. She escaped Poland during World War II, worked as a Private Eye, radio interpreter, and a bullfighter. She is actually the person that taught Earnest Hemingway everything he knows about bullfighting. Cool, right?
M.C. Higgins, The Great was written by Children’s literature legend, Virginia Hamilton. It is about a young boy who dreams of leaving the mountain where he grew up. On the top of his 40 foot steel pole, he sees two strangers on the mountain. He sees a man who is rumored to be traveling to record singers from the area performing folk songs. Higgins is convinced that this man will record his mother’s beautiful voice and be their ticket away from the mountain. He also sees a young girl who is traveling alone, he becomes obsessed with her freedom and tries to get her attention. This book had a shaky start for me. Higgins is not the “greatest” in my mind. He is rude and bossy to his only friend Ben which makes a little sense because he has to keep this friendship a secret from his superstitious father, and his introduction to the girl is very off-putting and near violent if not straight up violent which I still just don’t get. Maybe I missed something in my reading, but because of this, I can’t see myself recommending it to any of my students. The story goes on to touch on interesting things like family, growing up, rural life (specifically on the Ohio River, local to my new home), and social issues of strip mining and poverty. So, I don’t know, I’m kind of mixed on this one.
The last book I read this month was Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. This book reads fast, giving a great feel for life during the Great Depression. Bud (not Buddy), is sharp, smart and very funny. You follow him from his escape from a foster home in Flint, Michigan, his journey to Grand Rapids to find the man he believes to be his father, and through his disappointments and triumphs. That’s really all I can say without giving too much away. Most readers that I know have already read it. But if you have any elementary students that like historical fiction who haven’t read it, give it to them right away.
I hope to read a lot more this year, including books for grown ups! Wish me luck!