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Posts Tagged ‘Newbery Medal’

Because I started writing this blog a year ago this week, I at first thought I’d do a “State of the Blog” post and thank all the readers and writers out there that have made “On a Clear Day I Can Read Forever” so worthwhile and fun, etc., etc. But then I got lost in a lupus fog, and when the mist cleared, I’d forgotten what I was going to write beyond that.

I did remember that my first post was about Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me, which had just won the prestigious Newbery Award for best children’s book, and its parallels with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which also won the Newbery in 1963. The time-travel tale was my favorite when I was a kid, just as it is of Miranda, the 12-year-old heroine of Stead’s story, which has its own mysterious elements. Middle-grade magical realism. Loved it.

This year’s winner of the Newbery, Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Mainfest, is as different as can be from When You Reach Me but equally engaging. In 1936 Kansas, 12-year-old Abilene Tucker hops off a train to spend the summer in her father’s small hometown while he works a railroad job in Iowa. Always before, Abilene has tagged along with her dad from town to town, job to job. She tries to be optimistic about again being the new girl among strangers and hopes to find out more about her dad’s boyhood.

But Manifest has changed over the years, from a thriving immigrant mining community to a dusty, rundown place. Abilene knows the country’s suffering from a Great Depression, but she thinks it’s more like a big rut, and Manifest has fallen hard. But then she finds a cigar box with some hidden letters and mementos that hint at  intriguing secrets from World War I, including a possible spy, the Rattler.

Was the spy for real? Through old newspaper clippings by Miss Hattie, and stories told by the Hungarian medium, Miss Sadie, at her divining parlor, Abilene and two new friends find out about the town’s past and the adventures of pals Ned and Jinx. There’s bootleggers, the KKK, a flu epidemic. Where does Abilene’s dad fit in?

This is Vanderpool’s first novel, but you’d never know it. Drawing on family stories and research, she crafts a rousing historical novel with characters to care about. Love it.

I also love serendipity. I don’t know Vanderpool, but she lives in Wichita, where I lived for five years many moons ago, and I’ve even been through Frontenac — on which Manifest is based — on my way to a writing conference at Pittsburg State University. It’s in Crawford County, the southeast part of the state, and the green, hilly landscape looks more like Ireland than the plains west of Wichita.

Vanderpool also used to work at Wichita’s wonderful independent bookstore, Watermark Books, which was one of my favorite haunts. I went to my first big BEA convention– then known as ABA — with the staff from Watermark, driving to Dallas in a white convertible. I wouldn’t have become a book reviewer and a writer if not for Watermark and Wichita. Congratulations to Clare Vanderpool on her terrific first novel, and thanks to her for reminding me of my Kansas adventures.

Open Book: I bought an e-book copy of Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (Random House Children’s Book). Wish it had been a hardcover from Watermark.

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Because Winn-Dixie is closing its Clermont store, I immediately thought of Kate DiCamillo because she grew up in Clermont and because her award-winning kids’ book Because of Winn-Dixie is set in that small Florida town near Orlando. Not as it is now, with sprawling subdivisions and modern supermarkets in  shopping plazas, but back 30 or 40 years ago, when Highway 50 sliced through the groves of orange trees and dusty roads and pretty lakes, and kids walked to school and made magic of mundane things.

Kate has been making magic with words for more than a decade now. A University of Florida grad, she kicked around Central Florida for several years, then moved to Minneapolis and worked in the children’s section of a book warehouse. She wrote Because of Winn-Dixie during a long, cold Minnesota winter when she was homesick for Florida and wanted a dog. Her apartment didn’t allow pets, so she imagined a big, friendly mutt. A lonely girl named Opal names the stray after the grocery store in which she first rescues him. And then, because of Winn-Dixie, Opal begins to meet people and all sorts of things — some odd, mostly good — begin to happen.

Kate proved to be a winning writer in every way from the start. Because of Winn-Dixie, published in 2000, was a Newbery Honor Book and was Orlando’s One Book, One Community 2003 selection. Her second novel for middle-graders and also set in Florida, The Tiger Rising, was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her third, the oh-so-wonderful The Tale of Despereaux, “being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread,” won the 2004 Newbery, the highest award in children’s fiction.

So what does Kate do for an encore — two picture books, six early chapter books starring the toast-loving pig, Mercy Watson, and two more more magical novels, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, about a china rabbit’s unexpected voyage of love and self-discovery, and last September’s The Magician’s Elephant, a dream-like story about an orphan boy, an old soldier, a fortune teller, and a magician who longs to make “true magic” and conjures an elephant instead of lilies.

Kate is a fabulist in the best sense of the word, who long ago discovered the truth in fiction. Coming this fall is a new chapter book written with Alison McGhee, Bink and Gollie, about the comical adventures of two precocious little girls, “one tiny, one tall, both utterly irrepressible.” Looking at the cover illustration by Tony Fucile, I’d bet money the tiny one with the fly-away hair is Kate. I recognize the mischievous grin of a girl about to make more magic.

Open Book: Because she is one of my favorite storytellers, I’d write all these things about Kate even if she wasn’t a friend. Check out her website, www.katedicamillo.com, watch the video about The Magician’s Elephant (Candlewick Press), and be sure to read her most recent journal entry. Wait for the moon.

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