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Catching up on Newbery Medals: Terabithia, Whipping Boy and Kira Kira

I did not realize that reading and reviewing 12 Newbery Medal books in a year would be difficult. We have to acknowledge that this was the hardest reading challenge for us to get through. We still have five books to go until end of the year which is only four days away. I am hoping that between Fats, Iphigene, and myself, we would be able to complete and finish this challenge once and for all. I have short and sweet reviews of three Newbery Medal titles here – they are totally unrelated, but they are the ones I managed to finish within the teeny-tiny nick of time afforded us this 2012.

The Whipping Boy, 1987 Newbery MedalIMG_4669

Story By: Sid Fleischman
Illustrated by: Peter Sis
Publisher: A Greenwillow Book, Harper Trophy, 2003
Bought my own copy of the book.

I started reading this book a few months back and stopped because I just could not connect with it. I am a firm believer of the notion that books come to you at certain points in your life. This one has got to be an acquired taste. I knew I had to finish it because it is mighty-thin and we had to complete this Newbery challenge come hell or high water.

As short as it was, 90 pages in total, and a few pages are filled with Peter Sis’ glorious black-and-white illustrations, I still found myself dozing off a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, it has all the elements for a fast-paced, quick read, filled with adventure, quirky twists, heartwarming story of unlikely friendship, ruffians that you would hate to love but would most likely enjoy and laugh at, and even a carnival bear for goodness’ sakes, but.. my heart was just not in it. I could not get myself to be involved and as engaged as I would have liked. My eleven year old daughter finished it and rated it 3 out of 5 stars.

IMG_4670

In brief, it is kind of like a variant of the Prince and a Pauper – only in this title, the poor boy is Jemmy, the erst-while rat-catcher turned whipping boy. Since the Prince (aptly nicknamed Prince Brat behind his back) can not be punished for his misdeeds, it is his Whipping Boy who gets a thrashing, and sadly the Prince, bored out of his wits, could not care less. Things get a little dicey when Prince Brat decided to run away just for the heck of it – what happened to these two boys during their adventure, I shall leave for you to discover. For teachers who may wish to use this in the classroom, here is a downloadable Literature Kit created by Marie-Helen Goyetche for Classroom Complete Press – it is a mighty comprehensive resource that includes a teacher guide, student handouts, and even graphic organizer transparencies.

Kira-Kira, 2005 Newbery MedalIMG_4736

Story By: Cynthia Kadohata
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 2005
Bought my own copy of the book.

This book would have been perfect for our Girl Power bimonthly theme last March and our Festival of Asian Literature and Immigrant Experience theme last May. I read it then but did not have the time to include it in my reviews. I wanted to give it justice as the book resonated with me at the time that I was reading it. The language is lyrical and the narrative is leisurely-paced. I can predict that teachers or adults might label this a ‘girl book’ – for one, because of the title; and secondly because it does not have the action-filled tempo or vibe that most young boys might crave. It might not also sit well with reluctant readers, boys or girls alike. That being said, I recall what Nancy Johnson mentioned during the panel that I moderated on award-winning-books at the AFCC this year – she mentioned that if teachers would not introduce children to books like these, who would? That’s a pretty good question and quite a lot to chew on, really.

This is a book about sisters, about the journeys we take to find ‘home’ (only to discover it within ourselves); it is also about grief and loss and the glittering skies that provide a shining cushion against darkness and pain and overwhelming loneliness. When the world is less than welcoming to immigrants such as Katie Takeshima’s family (who moved from their Japanese community in Iowa to the deep South of Georgia), it is this capacity to find glittering truths and the ability to marvel at blue skies and the ocean that bring peace to troubled hearts who do not seem to belong even when in one’s own ‘home.’

Kira-kira means “glittering” in Japanese. Lynn told me that when I was a baby, she used to take me onto our empty road at night, where we would lie on our backs and look at the stars while she said over and over, “Katie, say ‘kira-kira, kira-kira.’” I loved that word! When I grew older, I used kira-kira to describe everything I liked: the beautiful blue sky, puppies, kittens, butterflies, colored Kleenex. (p. 1)

More than anything, it is also a coming-of-age novel – not in the romantic sense, but in that painful, growing-up, hurtful kind of way when you feel your bones creak, your legs and arms lengthening even against your will, your mind expanding to farthest reaches where no parents can protect you and wounds are not healed by kisses and chocolates. Yet, it is kira-kira, that glittering unknown – that provides comfort and light in those dark places filled with ignorance and hatred and loss.

For teachers who wish to use this in their classroom, click here to be taken to a free literature resource created by WebTeaching which includes writing activities, discussion/journal topics, and even an online test that teachers can use.

Bridge to Terabithia, Newbery Medal, 1978IMG_4672

Story By: Katherine Paterson
Publisher: Puffin Books, 1977
Bought my own copy of the book.

I’ve seen the film adaptation of this book countless of times as I often use it in teaching my graduate class on gifted education. I find that Leslie Burke’s brilliance and kira-kira, if I may use Kadohata’s term, is a perfect embodiment of gifted children’s overexcitabilities and heightened multifaceted sensitivities. This is the first time that I have read the book, and I must say that it is in keeping with what I have now grown to expect from Katherine Paterson’s narrative. I’ve read and reviewed Jacob Have I Loved, another one of her Newbery Medal titles, and this is another illustration of masterful storytelling – perfectly crafted and beautifully written. A story that never grows old.

‘We need a place,’ she said, ‘just for us. It would be so secret that we would never tell anyone in the whole world about it.’ Jess came swinging back and dragged his feet to stop. She lowered her voice almost to a whisper. ‘It might be a whole secret country,’ she continued, ‘and you and I would be the rulers of it.’

Leslie Burke is my Stargirl. She reminds me of Jerry Spinelli’s glittering, fiery, bright-eyed character – and Guy Montag’s Clarisse in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 with the dandelions and the spinningly-dangerous questions. And I was led to wonder how it is that I do not know any male character in YA lit with such formidable, magical, enchanting spirit that embraces the entire universe, leaving a trail of comet’s tail and exploding galaxies in its wake. Very curious, really. If you know of any such male protagonists, I’d be glad to hear about them.

The language in the narrative may be a bit different from what children may be accustomed to. It has its own distinct voice and character. I would recommend watching the film alongside the book so that parallels and divergences could be noted. As a whole, though, I felt that the film adaptation was faithful to the book’s core/essence. And while I know about the book’s tragic and tearful ending, this did not stop me from crying my eyes out while in the middle of a fast-food-chain waiting for friends to finish their last-minute shopping.

This is me reading in the middle of a fast food chain, my daughter and godson reading as well on the other table.

This is me reading in the middle of a fast food chain, my daughter and godson reading as well on the other table.

Yes, I am that girl who sniffles and sobs while people stare at me awkwardly, wondering what in heavens is happening to me. And these are the beautiful, timeless, classic lines that made me just cry .. and cry some more. I took a photo of that page and edited it using my iPhone app to superimpose this beautiful image. I hope you love it as much as I do.

IMG_4739For teachers who wish to use this in the classroom, click here to be taken to a downloadable PDF link created by NCTE.org that includes a comprehensive and detailed summary, recommended teaching objectives, suggested student activities, possible essay questions, as well as compelling reasons why this book should not be banned – the latter I leave for you to discover when you enjoy and read the book for yourself.

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3 comments on “Catching up on Newbery Medals: Terabithia, Whipping Boy and Kira Kira

  1. Oh, I bawled when reading Terebithia too. many of the Newbery books are such treasures. I read Whipping Boy aloud to an after school crowd, and the 3rd/4th grade boys loved it.

  2. I’ve never seen the Terabithia movie, and I’m not sure I want to. But I think this is among my top books read of 2012.

  3. I had the same experience with The Whipping Boy. I know I read it, but I don’t remember any of it. I’ll have to take a second look-or maybe not. Definitely not a favorite Newbery. I also loved Kira Kira and Terabithia.

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