Praiseworthy Books: Endeavoring to help you find the best in literature for you children that meets the standards of Philippians 4:8


2006 Newbery Reviews:

Criss-Cross

Lynne Rae Perkins (author & illustrator)
2006 Newbery Medal Winner

Debbie, Hector, Patty, and Lenny are a group of kids around 14 years old, going through many of the issues teenagers seem to face: being accepted, wondering about romance, discovering new interests Debbie develops a relationship with an elderly lady down the road, and they form an intergenerational friendship. She also shows great resourcefulness in an emergency. Hector pursues a new skill in guitar playing and songwriting and learns to accept himself as he is. . The plot line is unclear, and there is no firm conclusion. The narrative jumps from character to character, sometimes intertwining two or more kids' experiences, sometimes not. Interesting illustrations vary from drawings to photos to cartoons. The author does a good job of getting inside the mind of a junior high student.

A few instances of moderate profanity/crudeness (h*ll, d*mn, *ss, "scr*w you", "that s*cks"). God's name is taken in vain once or twice. There is a paragraph in one chapter discussing an outdated pamphlet about periods and sanitary napkins. Two kids hold hands. The characters are exploring the idea of romance at a young age. Some mention of Hinduism. Christianity and Catholicism receive a couple of mentions in a mediocre sort of way - as something that should be tolerated. Overall, not a great book, and the writing style is disjointed.


Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow

Susan Campbell Bartoletti
2006 Newbery Honor Book

A much ignored aspect of Nazi Germany is the youth of the time. Many German young people joined the Hitler Youth organization... and this book is their story, as well as the stories of other youth who took a different path. The stories of 12 German youth are followed from the beginning of Hitler's career to the end of the war and beyond. You will read about Herbert Norkus, who became a martyr for the Nazi cause at the age of 15. And Hans and Sophie Scholl, who started out in the Hitler Youth, but later left it, and became underground workers against the Nazis, eventually paying with their lives. Bert Lewyn was a young Jewish man, who lost both his parents to death camps, and was a forced laborer in a Nazi factory.

Hitler Youth was designed to tap into one of the greatest resources of Germany: its young people. Hitler figured if he could win their loyalty while they were young, and educate their minds with Nazi philosophy, they would be loyal Nazis and dedicated to his cause. This thoroughly researched book, with well-chosen photographs by the dozen, traces the path of the Hitler Youth organization and puts a human face on it. This is an extremely thought-provoking, well written book on Nazi Germany and World War II. Highly recommended for the older student and adults.

While not overly graphic, the author is very forthright with dealing with the crimes of the Nazis. The euthanasia of the mentally retarded and physically handicapped is discussed, as are the mass killings in the concentration camps, and the agony of those separated from their loved ones, and forced to watch them herded to the gas chambers. Parents/teachers might want to exercise caution in having a sensitive junior high student read this book. This is not a book for elementary students.


Princess Academy

Shannon Hale
2006 Newbery Honor Book

Miri lives in a village on the slopes of Mount Eskel, where the quarrying of linder stone is the livelihood of every family. Small for her fourteen years, she is the only girl her age not allowed to work in the quarry, and she sees herself as useless. Then comes a messenger from the Lowlands telling them that the future Princess of Danlander will be chosen from Mount Eskel. Since the girls are not educated, a "Princess Academy" is established as a boarding school for them to learn. In a year's time, the prince will pick his bride from among them. Miri learns not only the academic and social skills she will need to be a princess, but she learns many things about her world, other people and herself as well, and it is through her that great changes come to her village, as she discovers she is not useless at all.

The quarrying people of Mount Eskel use "quarry speak" to communicate. This seems to be a kind of thought-transference via the linder stone, using common memories to communicate the desired actions, with no spoken words. It seems a bit supernatural, and parents/teachers may wish to discuss this prior to or after reading the book. However, the book should not be discounted on this point alone, as it has some good lessons about people, growing up, and learning that glamour and ease are not the only goals in life.


Whittington

Allan Armstrong
2006 Newbery Honor Book

In this masterfully told story, the main characters are talking animals in the barn, each of which is physically imperfect in some way. Whittington, the cat, is the new kid on the block. Lady, the Moscovy duck is in charge of the barn, which houses 2 horses, a handful of Bantam hens, a rooster and the rats. Ben (age 8) and Abby (age 10) are the grandkids of Bernie, who owns the barn and its ragtag collection of abandoned animals. He and his wife are raising their orphaned grandchildren.

Ben can't read, because of dyslexia, and is falling further and further behind in school. The animals decide that Abby should give him reading lessons each day in the barn, and always cheer him on. As an ongoing reward and distraction from Ben's frustration, Whittington tells the story of his nameless ancestor (Dick Whittington's cat), in installments that leave everyone wanting to hear more. While Abby's lessons help some, Ben eventually gets help from a reading specialist at school, who not only helps him begin to overcome his dyslexia, but also helps him learn to deal with the frustration and anger that so often result from this learning disability. An excellent book, and very well told. The shifts from the main story to the legend and back are very well done. This would be an great book to read aloud and discuss, helping children understand dyslexia and the shame and frustration it often produces; hopefully making them more sensitive to others. A wonderful depiction of siblings loving and helping one another.

There are a couple of brief references to people using incantations along with herbs to effect cures. These are mentioned in the context of an African tribal king and the herbs he has told about, and would easily be dealt with by a brief discussion before reading.

All information provided here is © 2006, Deborah H. Ekstrand, and may not be reproduced in any form without written permission from the author.