Newbery | Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated . . .” With her grandmother’s taunt, Louise knew that she, like the biblical Esau, was the despised elder twin. Caroline, her selfish younger sister, was the one everyone loved.

Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister’s name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysteriously returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a chance to fulfill her childish dream to work as a watermen alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.

I did it! I read my first Newbery Gold Medal winner–Jacob Have I Loved, if the enormous image of the book didn’t tip you off. I posted a picture of the book on instagram and apparently gave someone traumatic middle school flashbacks. Hah! I have no such flashbacks because my librarian, Mrs. Green, wouldn’t let me read it because it “was not appropriate for a 6th grade girl.”

This book went along with me wherever I went the last couple of months, but I didn’t really start reading it until the other day, when I failed this fun BuzzFeed quiz on Newbery winners. How embarrassing. I’ve read ONE, The One and Only Ivan. I’ve read a ton of silver and honorable mention books, so I guess that’s something. You can see the list of gold medal winners in this post.

On the other hand, I was the dominator of the “How Many Banned Books Have You Read” quiz.

Jacobe Have I Loved, 2

There’s Mrs. Green’s infamous red pen! I have no idea who Emma is, but I know she wasn’t in 3rd grade. Not on Mrs. Green’s watch! That must stand for the number of “soiled pages” attributed to the slovenly Miss Emma. I told the 4th graders about Mrs. Green the other day, and how she wouldn’t allow us to say a word when we were in the library. She monitored what we read like hawks and and ran that thin-walled mobile trailer like a military base. Then, I told them how I walked to school in the snow uphill, both ways.

Jacob Have I Loved was good in a sad way, so of course I loved it. Nothing like sibling rivalry that never really gets resolved to warm the cockles of my cold, black heart. Toss is a 14 year old’s crush on a 70 year old man, an insane Methodist grandmother, loving but clueless parents, and the struggle to find your identity on an island off Maryland in 1945, and you’ve got the makings of a book you will never forget.

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. Suzanne says

    Jules, you inspire me to read more. In fact, I actually had Wonder from the library and rather than return it on its due date unread yesterday, I renewed it. I love it so far.

  2. Jenn in Wisconsin says

    I read 13 on the list. I’m 29 and most of the books were between 1999 and 1983, I guess we were a few years behind on the list on school. Walk Two Moons was my favorite YA book. It’s been a few years. I should read it again. Or maybe focus my attention on the books from 2000 and beyond!

    What is your Instagram name?

  3. Anna L says

    Surprisingly, I’ve read a few on the list! Favorites I remember were “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” and “Island of the Blue Dolphins”. Good luck!

    • says

      I got a 5th grader to read “Island of the Blue Dolphins,” and she LOVED it. There are now so many books from that list I want to read!

    • says

      Mixed Up Files is my all time favorite: I still read it (and I’m over 50); I was all about the escapist fantasy – Claudia was my hero! Blue Dolphins is also a must read.

  4. Susan says

    I’ve read 20, but there are more on my list. My kids have read more than that. We put audiobooks in the car frequently which is a wonderful way to share the love and get more reading in while running here and there.

    • says

      Yes, I was thinking about doing audio books from now on. The music these days leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to the treatment of women. :/

  5. Erin says

    That list brought back so many memories! I’ve read 24. My mom was pretty proficient in children’s literature (and I was a pretty insatiable reader). Some I couldn’t believe were published so long ago–Caddie Woodlawn & Hitty: Her First Hundred Years were favorites of mine and both were from the 1930s! I had no idea.

  6. Susan says

    I think Mikey would love “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” by E.L. Konigsburg. It’s about a brother and sister who run away and live in a museum. A museum! Can you think of anything more fabulous? It was one of my favorite books growing up. I can only remember reading 4 on the list, but I was such a voracious reader as a child, there are probably a couple on there I read and just don’t remember.

  7. Jennifer says

    I took the quiz, and I have read 13. Not great! But one of my favorite books ever is The Westing Game. I first read it in 5th grade for school, and I have read it several times since. I recently loaned it to my 30 year old friend, and she loved it! It may appeal to your oldest son.

    • says

      I second this! The university I work at recently asked staff for their 5 favorite books to celebrate national library week, and The Westing Game made the list. A couple of years ago I re-read it and loved it as much as I did in 5th grade.
      Other favorites: Sarah, Plain and Tall (especially growing up out in Colorado), and The Island of the Blue Dolphins.

  8. Susan G says

    I’ve read about a dozen but my daughters have read more than that. (And as I said on FB I had much more luck with the “Scandalous” Book List.) You haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time? One of my very favorite books! I would recommend it highly. And yes to the recommendation for Mikey to read The Mixed-up Files – great idea!

      • Susan G says

        I’ve read 44 of them – some I will likely never read at this point (Judy Blume, Junie B. Jones or whatever her name is). If I add the ones I tried and didn’t like (Huck Finn definitely) that’s another 3 or 4. Some great books on that list I am going to add to my stack.

  9. says

    I’ve read 13, apparently. My son, who was looking over my shoulder, was appalled. He’s read at least 1/3 of the list. I’m THAT mom. He’s now telling me I’ve missed out on a lot of good books and is offering to help me find some at the library. He’s a good boy :)

    • YJ says

      Oh, I got 18. Nothing after 2000. I have so much catching up to do! I will say that Island of the Blue Dolphins got me to read ALL the Scott O’Dells I could find, a Wrinkle in Time, all the L’Engle books…
      Midwife’s Apprentice is great for any student that enjoys historical fiction.
      I’m surprised To Kill a Mockingbird isn’t on there.
      Roll of Thunder was required reading for the 7th grade.

      Chris Crutcher also wrote some great YA (for maybe the 6th grade and up).

      I grew up on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but reading all of these books helped me understand “people.”

      PS. LOVE that you’re getting into all of this because having a passionate teacher/adult/librarian really comes through to students.

  10. says

    Woo-hoo! I read enough to earn a pizza party for the class! But still seems like not enough. I loved Jacob Have I Loved when I was a kid. Second the recommendations for Mixed-Up Files–both my kids loved that book when I read it to them in 4th or 5th grade. Oh, I could go on and on. Which one are you reading next?

    • says

      I brought home a few. Island of the Blue Dolphins, Wrinkle in Time, Where to Find Me (I think that’s what it’s called), The Whipping Boy, and one other one I can’t recall.

  11. says

    So do you agree with her assessment that it wasn’t for a 6th grade girl? I’m debating about making a summer challenge for my 3rd and 4th grader with the list, but then I wonder if I should wait until they’re a bit older. We read Door in the Wall for school this year, so they’ve read one, and two more are on our reading list for next year. :) (And I second Westing Game, I LOVED that book…read it back in 6th or 7th grade and reread it several times. I’m thinking I may read it outloud to my kids. I was also embarrassed how few I read and how most (all) were from when I was in school.

    • says

      Good question! It’s not that anything bad happens. There isn’t even kissing–just googly eyes. Oh, and the crazy Methodist grandma spouts off whore passages from the Bible. It’s more like a lot of the humor might go over their heads. But I can say the same thing about an 8th grader reading it. I think it’s one of those books that if you read as a child, you should read again as an adult to see what you missed. Does that make sense? I don’t know that a 3rd grader would get it. A 4th grader, maybe, but even then it would be pushing it. Again, not so much for salacious content but just for the life experience they might not have.

  12. Alicia says

    Yikes, I’ve only read 7! Seeing a few of those titles got me excited, like “Island of the Blue Dolphins”, and “From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” That list made me feel old…I had to scroll down quite a bit to get to ones I had read!

  13. Ellen S. says

    Wait! You didn’t answer the most important question of all: So is it inappropriate for a 6th grader? P.S. the Emma & Mrs Green story – nearly split a gut.

    • says

      Nothing sexy happens in the story, so in that sense it’s fine. I think an older child would better understand the identity crisis she goes through, especially when it comes to boys, her sister/family, and her education.

  14. Ellen S. says

    I checked – I’m at 11 Newberry’s. I did just read The Door in the Wall a couple weeks ago – finished it in one afternoon and really enjoyed it. There are a couple of others that I might have read when I was younger – but I”m not 100% sure. Well, anyway, Jacob I have loved is next on my list – a bargain on Kindle for $5 :-)

  15. sarah says

    When you posted the Newbery list a month or so ago I decided to read all the books, including rereading ones I have read before. So my total for that goal is 10. I’ve actually never read Jacob Have I Loved (the title turned me off of it when I was younger), so I’m excited to read it this time around. It is so interesting to reread these books from an adult(ish) perspective. So far my favorite is Shiloh, it actually brings up some really deep questions about right/wrong.

  16. Toi says

    I’ve read 4. Womp womp womp. And I didn’t even really read those. My 3rd and 4th grade teacher read them to us at story time. But, now that I’ve gone back and seen the list I want to read all of them. You must read Sounder. I’m still traumatized by the sadness in that book. (And if that isn’t a rining endorsement I don’t know what is.) I’m going to go home tonight and see how many I can find for my Kindle.

    Just out of curiosity, are you reading these in any certain order?

    • says

      I read them according to my interest at the time. No order, or I’ll get overwhelmed!

      p.s. 4 is more than 1…sorry, now TWO. O_o

  17. says

    “Then, I told them how I walked to school in the snow uphill, both ways.”

    ^Laughing so hard. But it’s more like, “then I told them how I walked home from school by myself and was a latchkey kid.” I don’t think many kids do that anymore.

    • Susan says

      Little Gray Pixal – that would be fascinating conversation to have about latch-key kids. One of my favorite authors/journalists, Hanna Rosin, just wrote an article for The Atlantic called “The Overprotected Kid”.

      She touches on so many different aspects she could have easily written a book by fleshing them out: playground safety, alone time for children, the perception of danger vs actual danger, societal judgement on other parents, crime rates, developmental needs, the list goes on.

      • Susan says

        But that’s what so fascinating! My brother is two years younger than me and we were on our own for hours in the afternoon starting when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade.

        The crime rate has actually gone down since we were growing up in the 70s and 80s. Our perception… now that’s another thing entirely. I was talking about the article with a good friend and her neighbor had the cops called on her because her elementary aged children were playing in the front yard unsupervised. Meaning, the concerned citizen who called couldn’t see their mother watching them from the living room window. Can you imagine? Someone called the cops because her children were playing in their own front yard without someone standing over them to make sure… what?

  18. says

    I read 15 on the list, mostly as a kid or teen. One nobody has mentioned here that I love to push is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH–appealing to both boys and girls. It has talking animals, science, mystery, adventure….A pivotal book for me when my 4th grade teacher read it aloud to the class. I’ve read it several times since then, including to my own son.

    • says

      Ah, that’s been a popular one with the handful of kids I have who aren’t afraid of a super old, out of fashion book cover. I’m going to have to see if I can get a new copy to generate interest.

  19. Kendra says

    Thank you so much for reminding me of this book! I loved it when I was 12 – and I am going to read it again now at 38!

  20. says

    Quiz results: 16.

    I just recommeded “Jacob” to a girl in our library today. She perked up a bit when I explained the title was from the Bible, not a love story, but she still didn’t check it out. :( I had a dark adoloscence and my own crazy Methodist-by-marriage grandmother that I lived with, so no wonder I loved this (and all of K. Patterson) so much.

    ALSO! The quiz reminded me of “The Dark is Rising” series (The Gray King won a Newbery) by Susan Cooper. The Dark is Rising book itself is one of my favorites — fantasy, the struggle between the forces of Dark and the Light, sorcery, a young boy who discovers his powers — I bet one could easily pick out J.K. Rowling’s many influences here. (Tried to get my daughter into them a few years back, but she only has eyes for Harry.)

    • says

      I will check out that series.

      Yeah, the girls can’t get behind the book because of the cover. The kids today are very visual. I don’t remember caring much about the covers when I was their age, but we didn’t have the designers and technology they do now.

  21. Liz says

    I have never commented on a blog before, but OH THIS BOOK. I can’t even tell you how MANY times I read this book. Completely dog-eared part of my adolescence. Thank you for the giant flashback, it was almost like hearing a song that you haven’t heard in years.

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