Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sunday Salon: Junior Fiction (Happy Birthday Beverly Cleary!)

You may or may not realize that there is some really wonderful Junior Fiction out there.  You are all readers of some sort, and were all kids at some point, so I'm guessing that most everyone has read some Junior Fiction in their lives.

You may or may not have continued reading Junior Fiction after ceasing to be of "junior" age.  If you have kiddos, like I do, the chances that you've dipped back into Newbery territory are probably greater, but whether you have children to read aloud to or not, Junior Fiction plays a vital role in literature.

This week, on April 12, Beverly Cleary will celebrate her 95th birthday.  Here is an author that set out to entertain children and has consequently made an impression on a nation (and perhaps beyond?)  Multiple generations have enjoyed Ribsy and identified with Ramona.  The power of the written word, even when in the form of simple sentences and young characters, is enough to bring laughter and comfort to people of different ages and backgrounds.  I'd like to wish Beverly Cleary a happy birthday, from my daughters and myself--thank you for remembering what it was like to be a child, and daring to write about it...your books will always have a place on my shelf!

I haven't written regular reviews of my Junior Fiction reads in a while, and I thought I'd start doing a quarterly the following books are the ones from the first quarter of 2011.  Most of these are read aloud to my kiddos, some for school and some just for fun.  Hope you find something worth looking into or something you've read that will spark a happy memory (if not, at least my unreviewed-books-guilt has been alleviated somewhat!)

The Door in the Wall (Books for Young Readers)The Door in the Wall by Marguerite DeAngeli
I reviewed this Newbery Winner (1950) at The Newbery Project in January.  I read it aloud for school (Middle Ages and all that) and while it does discuss some interesting parts of the era (illness, the role of the church, the feudal system) we found it a bit boring and hard to follow.  We had already read Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! (another Newbery winner) and we'd recommend that instead--very different styles of books, but as far as interest goes, we enjoyed the latter more. (3 stars)

The School StoryThe School Story by Andrew Clements
This is a fun story for the young writer or entrepreneur you may know.  Natalie's friend Zoe is amazed at Natalie's talent for writing and is determined to help her get her story published.  Although Natalie's mother works in publishing, she refuses to enlist her mother's help, determined to make her own way.  Everything works out way too easily for these girls, but it is still a fun adventure.  The plot was rather predictable, but the characters and the dialogue felt real and refreshing. (3.5 stars)

Dragon Spear (Dragon Slippers)Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear by Jessica Day George
I've talked about these books and the author before.  These 2 titles follow Dragon Slippers to make a nice middle grade dragon-fantasy trilogy.  The first book takes a little while to really suck you in, and the last one ends rather gently, but generally speaking they are full of fun and adventure throughout.  In addition to that, the thing I really appreciated was that they were rather innocent as far as love and battle goes.  It included both, but hit a good balance of intensity--my sensitive 6 year-old daughter enjoyed listening to them, and my 12 year old son enjoyed reading them as well.  (4 stars)

Adam of the Road (Puffin Modern Classics)Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray
Back to the school subjects...I have to say that by the end of this book my kiddos were tired of the Middle Ages and tired of minstrels.  That being said, however, this Newbery winner was much more fun to read than The Door in the Wall.  It was easier to follow and easier to identify with.  I'd still say that Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was their favorite from the medieval bunch, though.  At least Adam of the Road seemed more like a book about (and geared towards) children than the prior one! (3.5 stars)

Misty of ChincoteagueMisty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry
My 6 year-old daughter lives and breathes horses. We've been reading My Chincoteague Pony (picture book) for years, and so she was very excited to finally hear the story inspiring the picture book.  A fairly simple story from a fairly simple time, it is nonetheless a heartwarming book for the horse lover.  Marguerite Henry is a great author to go to for books about horses! I'm sure I'll be re-reading this at some point.  (4 stars)

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
I didn't know what to expect out of this Newbery winner, I just knew that I'd heard many people declare their love of it.  I found it enjoyable enough, although I'm afraid the magic passed over me somewhat.  I think my kiddos enjoyed it more than I did.  Perhaps if I'd read it as a child??  Maybe not...I didn't really identify with the characters or the adventure: I never wanted to run away and be out on my own, and museums always creeped me out as a kid.  If you don't have those issues, you're much more likely to love this book! I did enjoy the dynamics between the brother and sister, though--the constant grammar corrections and budget discussions were entertaining.  (3.5 stars)


  1. I have a very, very special place in my heart for Beverly Cleary. She brings me back to a time when I layed out in my backyard and read with not a care in the world.

    She is also the author of some of the first chapter books I shared with my sons.

    It is also the first chapter books my younger son devoured (on the Kindle)when he first started reading.

    My older son wrote her a fan letter when he was 7.

    You have read her autobiography (2 books), haven't you? Her fiction is highly autobiographical.

    And last, the movie Ramona and Beezus with Selena Gomez was so well done that I was actually not disappointed in a cherished book becoming a movie (for once).

    Sorry so long; I love Beverly, doncha know?


  2. Oh I love her too! I've read the first volume of her autobiography, but haven't gotten to the second one yet. I really loved it though. It took me straight back to those childhood memories of reading her books.

    Also, I haven't seen the movie because I was terrified it would mess up the books...maybe I'll actually watch it now that it has the Belle stamp of approval!

  3. Yes, we love Beverly Cleary!!

    Interesting that you didn't care for Konigsburg's MIXED UP FILES -- I remember loving the idea of being in the museum after hours (but never had the running away fantasy)

    Glad you're having fun revisiting these.

  4. I wish I'd connected with it seems that it's a favorite for many.

    Of course, my only experience with museums as a child was the local one that was small, dusty, and contained items from the Gold Rush era--which just weren't far enough in the past to really feel amazingly historical, more like snooping in someone else's belongings instead of looking at a masterpiece.

    Or maybe I'm just weird. :)

  5. What a heartwarming list, and only half have I read. Thank you so much, Melody, for offering these titles.
    Personally, I love to indulge in "junior" reads, especially when I can get them on CD for the car. All of your picks are going straight into my library queue.
    Thanks so much for your blog, Melody. I continute to enjoy and appreciate your contribution to readers everywhere.

  6. Thank you for your comment, Laurie. There really are some great JF titles, I'm glad to hear that you are able to continue to enjoy them every so often!

  7. They just featured Cleary in the New York Times Book Review yesterday... did you know she has two memoirs out? They are supposed to be wonderful. The latter is all about how she became an author, and why she wrote the types of books she did. I've added it to my TBR -- it looks very interesting and inspiring!


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