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Book Review: A Year Down Yonder

Peck, Richard. A Year Down Yonder. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2000.

Mary Alice’s childhood summers in Grandma Dowdel’s sleepy Illinois town were packed with enough drama to fill the double bill of any picture show. But now she is fifteen, and faces a whole long year with Grandma, a woman well known for shaking up her neighbors-and everyone else! All Mary Alice can know for certain is this: when trying to predict how life with Grandma might turn out… better not.

This book is a sequel to A Long Way From Chicago, but I honestly didn’t even know that there was a previous book. It works just fine as a stand-alone, which is important to consider when suggesting books to children. For some series, you really need to read the books in order or you won’t understand things. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading and knowing you’re missing something important that was in a previous book.

A Year Down Yonder, the Newbery Award winner for 2001, starts off slow… and doesn’t pick up much speed as it goes on. The pace of the novel was much like the town in which it’s set: “sleepy” is the perfect description! But that worked because the novel is historical (set in late 1937 and early 1938), and life had a slower pace back then. It was an interesting contrast with Bud, Not Buddy, which was set in the same decade in Michigan but was paced faster like the jazz music that was its theme.

Overall I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. There were a lot of little stories that were only thinly connected, and I prefer books with a bigger overarching storyline. They were interesting, but nothing grabbed my attention and refused to let go. With most books there is a point where you hit escape velocity – it’s that moment in the story where you can’t bear to be interrupted, you just have to read straight through to the end. Neptune’s Children is a great example of escape velocity. I didn’t get that feeling with A Year Down Yonder, but it was still enjoyable.

Book Review: Bud, Not Buddy

Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud, Not Buddy. New York, NY: Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 1999.

It’s 1936 in Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and 10-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy on the run, but Bud’s got a few things going for him:

1. He has his own suitcase full of special things.
2. He’s the author of Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself.
3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: flyers advertising Herman E. Calloway and his famous band, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression!!!!!!

Bud’s got an idea that those posters will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road and find this mystery man, nothing can stop him — not hunger, not fear, not vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself.

Can I tell you how much I love this book? I LOVE THIS BOOK! It’s one of my favorite Newbery winners (winner in 2000), and I highly recommend listening to the audiobook – it’s read by actor James Avery, known to many as Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and he is absolutely amazing. I first listened to this one when I was in library school, in a Children’s Literature class, but I’m not sure if I finished or just listened to most of it. So I decided it was worth a reread.

The title of the book comes from Bud’s momma, who died when Bud was six years old. She says that his name is Bud, not Buddy, and that she knew what she was doing, and if she wanted to name him Buddy, she would have. So when anyone asks his name, he tells them, “My name is Bud, not Buddy.” And then they tease him and call him Bud, Not Buddy. It’s really cute that he says it every time, because he’s a kid and kids do things like that.

Bud’s Rules and Things For Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself are a theme throughout the novel. Basically, it’s things that Bud has figured out being on his own, in and out of foster homes since his mother died. Some of them are poignant, like that when an adult says someone is “gone” it usually means “dead.” Others are funny, like when you wake up and don’t know where you are, it’s best to keep your eyes closed and pretend to sleep until you can figure out what’s going on.

The story takes place in the United States during the Depression, and Bud (and vicariously, the reader) experiences and learns about a lot of things of the time, like Hoovervilles and soup kitchens and Jazz music. That’s another reason the audiobook is awesome – there is often saxophone music underscoring the narration, and more instruments join in sometimes too. It makes me want a CD of the Dusky Devastators of the Depression, but I’ll settle for my Jazz station in Pandora. 🙂

This is a great book for boys, which are sometimes hard to find books for because they don’t want to read about girls. And the character names are great! Deza Malone, Lefty Lewis, Steady Eddie… the names go along with the Jazzy tone of the novel, especially those in the band. Reading it is awesome, but listening to it is even better.

Book Review: Number the Stars

Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1989.

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think about life before the war. But it’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching in their town.
The Nazis won’t stop. The Jews of Denmark are being “relocated,” so Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be part of the family.
Then Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission. Somehow she must find the strength and courage to to save her best friend’s life. There’s no turning back now.

The Newbery Award winner for 1990, this is another one I read as a child. I didn’t remember anything about this book except that it has to do with things that happen during World War II. And I really liked it. A lot of kids read this book as part of the curriculum in elementary school.

It’s a slim book and mainly covers one sequence of a couple days. That’s a good thing, I think. For kids too young to read Anne Frank’s diary, Number the Stars is a simple introduction to the war without touching on major horrors like concentration camps. Lowry based the novel on stories she heard and read about Denmark, and there is an Afterward to explain which elements of the novel are based on facts.

I enjoyed this novel as a child, and I think that’s largely because I was reading about girls roughly my own age. I could relate to their love of playing with dolls, and Annemarie’s annoyance at her little sister from time to time. As I said, it’s a good basic introduction to World War II for children. As an adult, especially knowing how much more there is to the war and how much worse it was in other countries, I was a bit disappointed. I love Lowry’s The Giver (which is another Newbery winner) because the story is deep and layered, and the issues brought up are very interesting to ponder. Number the Stars is for a younger audience, and while there are a few good talking points, I was expecting more.