Awards – 1961 through 1980

1961  Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

One of the most interesting things to me about this book was how Karana survives by herself for so many years. The author’s note states that there really was a girl who lived alone on an island for 18 years. I thought Mr. O’Dell did a great job imagining what her life was like. I liked the way in which she tamed the animals that lived with her and found companionship. It’s interesting to see how her feelings change – how she was glad to live on the island after her abortive trip to the mainland, and then how her willingness to leave gradually grew as her desire for human companionship grew stronger.  (Feb 2010)

1962  The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

This look at the historical time period of Jesus Christ is full of the pain of living in an occupied country.  Daniel is torn between fierce loyalty to his country and intense hatred of Rome, who killed his parents.  He is responsible for his sister but wants to fight.  He makes friends with rebels, but watches them become converted to Jesus, who won’t lead Israel in rebellion.  By the end of the novel, I wondered just how this story could end, but just as Jesus performed miracles for others, he performed one for Daniel.  I liked the exploration of spiritual and personal freedom, as opposed to spiritual and personal bondage that the Jewish nation bowed under during this time period. (Apr 2010)

1963  A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle

No matter how many times I re-read this, I find myself enthralled with the ideas of time and space travel and of things outside our understanding. I also enjoyed all the references to literature and Christianity and thinking about how all those ideas connected. Ms. L’Engle makes very real the idea that there is power in love and in faith and in courage – something we sometimes forget.  (Oct 2009)

1964  It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Cheney Neville

What’s interesting about this book is not the amazing plot or exciting adventures (because really, there aren’t any). Instead, it’s a picture of a boy, just starting high school, who is figuring out his relationship with his father, seeing how different families do things, making new friends, and discovering girls. Set in New York, the city becomes another character, as Dave heads out to Coney Island, or over to the fish market, or down to Brooklyn. It’s a lovely look at growing up in a different era (set in the early 60’s).  (Feb 2010)

1965

1966   I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Treviño

Juan tells the story of being a slave to the artist Diego Velázquez and of developing his own artistic talent. The reader gets to see into the life of the famous painter but also into the life of a slave in 17th century Spain.

1967  Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt

I really liked this story of Julie growing up and learning about love and family. Julie is a real girl – full of flaws and selfishness and loyalty and love. I especially appreciated her realization of where home really was and what love means.  There aren’t a lot of exciting plot twists, but there is a nice sense of growing up and “coming of age”.

1968  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

This was a favorite of mine from grade school and I’ve read it three or four times since. I love that the book is about the kids but told by Mrs. Frankweiler. You get all these grownup observations about a child’s adventure. I also really enjoyed seeing how the kids survive and thrive in their adventure, and how Mrs. Frankweiler understands Claudia so well. Great book!  (Feb 2010)

1969

1970  Sounder by William H. Armstrong

I’m not sure what I think about this book, now that I’ve come to the end. I’ve tried to think what the author was saying – what the connections are between Sounder and the father and the boy. I’m not really sure. Certainly, there is the idea of injury – the way the world can break a man (or a dog). And Sounder seems to represent something amazing – he’s the best hunter, he has the best call, he is loyal to one man alone. That amazing something seems to be wrapped up in the father too. The son keeps hunting for him, and sees in him someone who never kneels, who could kill a cruel guard with his bare hands, just like Sounder does with his prey. Yet both the dog and the man are broken by the world, and the boy finds a different way to meet the world – not by force, but with education. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed this book – but like many great books, it made me think.  (Mar 2010)

1971  The Summer of the Swans byBetsy Byars

This is the perfect contained story – the action all takes place within about a day or so. Ms Byars captures that crazy time when one is leaving behind childhood – when emotions are all over the place, when everything about one’s body is a potential thing to dislike. Then she adds into the mix the unusual situation – living with an aunt, having an absent father – physically and emotionally, loving a little brother who is mentally disabled. Very nicely done.  (Feb 2010)

1972  Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

I quite enjoyed this Newberry Award winner – it was a curious mix of science fiction and cozy talking animal tale. Through it all, the comforting figure of Mrs. Frisby illustrates courage, love, and kindness. Mrs. Frisby’s desire to care for her children drives her to do frightening things, and her innate kindness drives her to do things for others, even at her own peril. The rats of NIMH, on the other hand, are figures of wonder – smart, inventive, and the stuff of science fiction. I want to go read more about them!  (Mar 2010)

1973  Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

I loved how Miyak learned to “talk” wolf and was accepted by the wolf pack. I loved how she learned to use the skills she had to survive and to thrive in the wilderness. I ached for her conflict – white ways vs. Eskimo ways. And in some ways that conflict exists for all children growing up to be adults – the conflict between idealism and pragmatism. Beautiful writing, especially when describing the wolves. I kept thinking the title wasn’t right – she wasn’t Julie. But the ending made me re-think that.  (Feb 2010)

1974

1975 M.C. Higgins, the Great by Virginia Hamilton

This was a curious book – I never could decide what I hoped for M.C. and his family. I did like the end, because M.C. found positive ways to deal with the things he feared and to maintain his connection to the family land. Ms. Hamilton gives the reader things to think about – like what does the pole represent? how does Lurhetta change things? what about M.C.’s relationship with his father? (Mar 2013)

1976  The Grey King by Susan Cooper

One of the things that stood out for me was the dramatic ending to this installment in the series. Unlike some of the other novels of “The Dark is Rising” this one feels more grown-up and less about children having an adventure. Part of this is the more mature themes – death, serious illness, love and loss. I think this is the more interesting part of this series. The actual magical adventures seem almost predestined to be successful. The part in question is the character of the people involved. (Nov 2011)

1977  Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry byMildred D. Taylor

This reminded me, in many ways, of Ms. Harper’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”.  Cassie finds herself caught up in the racial tensions in their community at the same time that she is coming face to face with what it means to be black in the South.  While her parents walk the fine line between keeping their family safe and still striving for a better life, Cassie has to learn that being safe sometimes means doing things you don’t want to do.  Thought-provoking book. (Mar 2011)

1978  The Bridge to Terabithia byKatherine Paterson

This was a favorite of mine in elementary school and I can still remember how surprised I was that one of the main characters died!  This was the first book I read where that happened.  Re-reading this book with my kids has reminded me of all the reasons why this was a favorite.  I love the friendship that develops between Jess and Leslie.  I love that Leslie pushes Jess to be more than he thought he could be.  I love the explorations Ms. Paterson makes about family and religion and imagination.  In the end, Ms. Paterson treats death with dignity and realism.  The way she shows Jess’ mixed up emotions and thoughts and feelings was wonderful and heart-breaking. (Apr 2010)

1979  The Westing Game : a puzzle mystery by Ellen Raskin

I loved this book as a child, and it was still enjoyable as an adult – I even figured out at least part of the puzzle. It was interesting to see the story and the characters from different view points – and to realize that the truth lay somewhere in the middle of it all. The different characters were interesting and I like that everyone is a mix of good and bad qualities. A fun book to read.  (Feb 2010)

1980  A Gathering of Days byJoan W. Blos

‘Gathering of Days’ is the story of the life of a girl living in New England in the early 1800’s,  Written as a journal, the story tells of Catherine’s life the year her father remarried, her best friend died, and she helped a run-away slave escape to Canada. It was an enjoyable read, but didn’t really capture my imagination. Still, a well-written historical novel. (May 2010)

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