Newbery Challenge | Island of the Blue Dolphins (1961)

Newbery Challenge | Island of the Blue Dolphins (1961)Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2010-02-08
Genres: Action & Adventure, General, Girls & Women, Historical, Native American, Newbery Gold Winner, People & Places, Survival Stories, United States, Young Adult
Pages: 192
AmazonBarnes & Noble four-stars
Far off the coast of California looms a harsh rock known as the island of San Nicholas. Dolphins flash in the blue waters around it, sea otter play in the vast kelp beds, and sea elephants loll on the stony beaches. Here, in the early 1800s, according to history, an Indian girl spent eighteen years alone, and this beautifully written novel is her story. It is a romantic adventure filled with drama and heartache, for not only was mere subsistence on so desolate a spot a near miracle, but Karana had to contend with the ferocious pack of wild dogs that had killed her younger brother, constantly guard against the Aleutian sea otter hunters, and maintain a precarious food supply. More than this, it is an adventure of the spirit that will haunt the reader long after the book has been put down. Karana's quiet courage, her Indian self-reliance and acceptance of fate, transform what to many would have been a devastating ordeal into an uplifting experience. From loneliness and terror come strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic. In celebration of the book's 50th anniversary, this edition has a stunning new look, and an introduction by Lois Lowry, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Giver and Number the Stars.


Aerial images of the ocean scary. Satellite images are just plain terrifying. I will never go on a cruise and scuba diving is out of the question. The ocean is vast, endless. You can look up, down, left, right and still not know where you are. More importantly, you can’t see what monsters are sneaking up on you until they’re feasting on your limbs. The ocean is a place of nightmares. I could go into more detail, but this Buzzfeed post sums it up. Bad words could make it NSFW.

This has nothing to do with Island of the Blue Dolphins. I like to place an image under the book description to rest the eyeballs, so I thought it would be nice to include a picture of San Nicholas island for a point of reference. I had no idea I would find images lifted from my darkest nightmares.

I’m not sure I can write this post while staring into the face of evil, but I’ll try.

I really liked this book, which makes me suspect that the best books were written pre-1980 and all hope is lost for children’s literature. I look off into the horizon and all I see are quips and sound bites. Relax, I’m mostly kidding. I read and loved The Graveyard Book, and that was the 2009 winner.

Island of the Blue Dolphins has many of the characteristics I love in a book. There was history, adventure/survival, strong female characters, and a happy, but not overly-so ending.


This is Juana Maria (name given to her by the missionaries who found her), the woman believed to be Karana, the 12 year old girl in O’dell’s book who gets left behind by her tribe. In real life, Juana Maria was alone on the island for 18 years until she was found in 1853 at the age of approximately 50.

Captain Nidiver reported on the encounter in his memoirs The Life and Adventures of George Nidever. The party consisted of himself, another hunter named Charley Brown, “an Irishman we called Colorado from his florid complexion” and four Mission Indians. They landed on the island in July, planning several months hunting. Shortly after their arrival they found an “old woman” stripping blubber from a piece of seal skin. According to Nidiver’s account, instead of running way “she smiled and bowed, chattering away to them in an unintelligible language.” She was “of medium height… about 50 years old but …still strong and active. Her face was pleasing as she was continually smiling… Her clothing consisted of but a single garment of skins.”

Nidever had been requested by the Fathers at the Mission Santa Barbara to “bring the lost woman off [the island] in case we found her” and that is what they did about a month later.

At this point, it was known that there was only one woman on the island, which explains the search. Over 20 years earlier, after an attack by poachers decimated the Nicoleño tribe (300 to 20), the mainland attempted to rescue those left and rebuild the tribe onshore (allegedly–who knows the real plan, honestly). Maria Juana, it is believed, begged to stay behind because she couldn’t find her young son. It took them 18 years to find her again.

The book paints a vaguely happy picture of Karana’s future, but Juana Maria’s future was far less romantic. It is said she was excited when she reached California. She was amazed by the horses, the fruits and vegetables, the architecture and buildings. She danced and sang for the town, who all came to see her. She spoke in a language no one understood, so members of another tribe of Native Americans were to come to visit to see if they could translate her language.

Unfortunately, Juana Maria died 7 weeks after reaching California from dysentery. How she contracted it is unknown, but some speculate it was from her indulgence of fruits, vegetables, and grains after decades of a diet centered on fish and seal blubber.

[pauses to allow people to regroup after major bummer]

I liked the book, and I can see why it won the Newbery, but reading about the real “Karana” had a far bigger impact on me.

The News

Library Fall 2014

Thank you so much for all the helpful comments on my Veggie Boy post! I haven’t had a chance to reply to them, but I will. I was out of the house yesterday and will be the rest of the week because…I’m the new 4th grade aide at the boys’s school! :)

It’s only a part-time position because I told them that while I would love to help in any way I can, I didn’t want that help to jeopardize the existence of the library. They looked at me like a was a little crazy because, like most schools in our area, there is no budget for a library.

“You do realize that if you kept the library open we wouldn’t be able to pay you, right?”

“Yes, but it’s important enough to me that I’ll do it for free.”

This may sound ridiculous to some, especially since we could use the money, but I don’t care. I have faith that this is what I am supposed to do. God provides us with what we need, and I need the library and those kids more than the small increase in money a full time aide paycheck would provide. The library has brought me joy and purpose. It’s an incredible feeling to touch the life of a child in a positive, long-lasting way. It’s jump-for-joy exciting to see a child fall in love with reading. As a school parent, it has been inspiring to see the power of a school in action. We, the school community, have come together to build something great. I have received so much money in donations to buy books. People trust me with their money! I’ve had parents empty their toy rooms of games and puzzles for the kids to play with during library. They have purged their home libraries of books their kids no longer read or have outgrown. They have donated decorations, bought Christmas trees, volunteered their time to help…it’s been amazing and heartwarming. The never ending supply of books for me to read hasn’t been a bad thing, either. (Except for Flora & Ulysses. There’s a handful of hours I’ll never get back.)

I’m expected to aide in a classroom with a teacher I love, then they want me to sit in a room full of books and kids and talk about what to read. Life is good.

Newbery Challenge | Dear Mr. Henshaw (1984)

Newbery Challenge | Dear Mr. Henshaw (1984)Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary
Published by Harper Collins on 2009-10-06
Genres: Classics, Family, Friendship, General, Marriage & Divorce, Newbery Gold Winner, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 176
Amazon five-stars
Beverly Cleary's Newbery Medal-winning book explores the thoughts and emotions of a sixth-grade boy, Leigh Botts, in letter form as he writes to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw. After his parents separate, Leigh Botts moves to a new town with his mother. Struggling to make friends and deal with his anger toward his absent father, Leigh loses himself in a class assignment in which he must write to his favorite author. When Mr. Henshaw responds, the two form an unexpected friendship that will change Leigh's life forever. Supports the Common Core State Standards


This is my life right now. I’m wrapping books for the library with protective covers. I’ve done 100+ so far since Tuesday but, as you can see, I have a long way to go. There may be radio silence around here as I spend the next two weeks wrapping, organizing, and decorating the library for the school year. I’m taking pictures because I’m calling it a William Morris Project.

It’s very hard to sit on your duff for hours at a time wrapping books. I like a monotonous task as much as the next obsessive thinker, but even I need a break from monotony and hours of Netflix crime shows. When I need a mental break I read a Newbery. God knows I have enough of them at my feet!

I wasn’t going to post today, but I just finished Dear Mr. Henshaw and I’m so excited I had to tell someone. What an amazing book! Epistolary novels are some of my favorites! I had no idea Dear Mr. Henshaw was an epistolary novel! Exclamation points!

This is why I’m reading Newbery winners and this is why I’m trying to read more elementary/middle school books. I tried to get the kids to read this book last year, but because I didn’t know what it was about I couldn’t sell it very well. I’m not a salesperson. If I don’t like something or can’t tell you much about it, I won’t push it on you.

Now that I I’ve read Dear Mr. Henshaw, you can bet I’ll be encouraging the kids to give it a try. It’s an excellent book.

Newbery Challenge | The Whipping Boy (1987)

Newbery Challenge | The Whipping Boy (1987)The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman
Published by Harper Collins on 2003-04-15 (reprint)
Genres: Action & Adventure, Friendship, General, Humorous Stories, Newbery Gold Winner, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 96
AmazonBarnes & Noble four-stars
A Prince and a Pauper Jemmy, once a poor boy living on the streets, now lives in a castle. As the whipping boy, he bears the punishment when Prince Brat misbehaves, for it is forbidden to spank, thrash, or whack the heir to the throne. The two boys have nothing in common and even less reason to like one another. But when they find themselves taken hostage after running away, they are left with no choice but to trust each other.

I don’t know why I bother reading the Goodreads reviews for young adult/early elementary literature. I keep going back hoping to read something that won’t make me huff and roll my eyes and curse humanity. I’m like the person who is allergic to peanuts and applies for a job at the Skippy plant. I should really know better and yet there I am, huffing and rolling and cursing.

Here is the most important thing you should know about The Whipping Boy: IT’S A CHILDREN’S BOOK. The grade level equivalent for this book is 4.0, so 4th grade. The Lexile Measure® is 570L, the DRA is 40, and the Guided Reading Level is R. This a book for the average 4th grader.

Got that, People of Goodreads?

As a piece of young adult fiction, The Whipping boy earned a Newberry Award. I’m not sure why.

You’re not sure about a lot of things, Jessica. You’re not sure what young adult means. I can tell you it doesn’t mean “books for 3rd and 4th graders.” You’re also not sure how to spell Newbery or what it awards. The Newbery (one ‘r’) celebrates children’s literature, not young adult literature. You’re thinking of the Michael L. Printz award.

This book is simple, but entertaining. It’s a quick, easy read. I remember reading it at some point during elementary school and enjoying it then. Reading it lately, though, it seems that it might hold more interest for kids than adults.

I can’t imagine why a children’s book would hold more interest for kids than adults. I’m stunned and once I wake up from my stupor I will view life through a new lens.

Yes, it’s entertaining. But the Newbery? This is such a doggone short book that I’m surprised it even made it onto the discussion table in the first place.

+10 points for spelling Newbery right
-05 points for using the word doggone
-95 points for assuming the Newbery has a page requirement

Final Score: -90

After reading “The Hunger Games,” this book seemed incredibly simple…

Please stop thinking.

This is a terrible book that I was forced to read in fifth grade. I was put into a group of other kids who were also made to read this miserable piece of fiction against our will, and it was so bad, that I was able to persuade my teacher to put me in another group. I thought it’d be better, but everyone else in that group were way ahead of me and understood a lot of it. It was called “The Westing Game” and it was by some guy who doesn’t know how to write, and it would take me forever to catch up to the other kids. I never did, so I was put back in the Whipping Boy’s group again, but the kids in that one had already finished it.

Snort. OK, so this guy actually made me laugh.

Please, understand this is a book for children. I would give this book, which I very much enjoyed, to 3rd and 4th graders. I will encourage my reluctant readers in 5th and 6th grade to give it a try. It’s a great read aloud book, too, because it is so short. I plan on reading it to Nico and Mikey, who have not read the Hunger Games, thankyouverymuch.

Newbery Challenge | The Graveyard Book (2009)

Newbery Challenge | The Graveyard Book (2009)The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Published by A&C Black on 2009-11-02
Genres: General, Newbery Gold Winner, Young Adult
Pages: 304
AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo five-stars
When a baby escapes a murderer intent on killing the entire family, who would have thought it would find safety and security in the local graveyard? Brought up by the resident ghosts, ghouls and spectres, Bod has an eccentric childhood learning about life from the dead. But for Bod there is also the danger of the murderer still looking for him - after all, he is the last remaining member of the family. A stunningly original novel deftly constructed over eight chapters, featuring every second year of Bod's life, from babyhood to adolescence. Will Bod survive to be a man?

Graveyard Book

Five stars.

Five stars! FIVE.

I do that, what, two, maybe three times per year? This book deserved every last star. This is the first Gaiman book I have read, so I’m not comparing to the other books he has written, unlike some reviewers. I don’t know how it compares to Coraline or adult books like American Gods and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I picked The Graveyard Book because Gaiman is an author I’ve always wanted to read, it’s the Newbery Gold Medal for 2009, and it’s a new book in the library I can sell to the kids. Reading this book was a to-do list crossing, multitasking explosion of smugness. I felt like I accomplished two months of work in 304 pages.

I’m going to encourage the students who love Gothic and macabre in literature to read The Graveyard Book. The story centers around Nobody Owens (Bod, for short), a young boy raised in a graveyard of ghosts after a man named Jack brutally murders his family. The action starts immediately with the murder of the family in the middle of the night. Bod, at this point 18 months old, wakes up and leaves the house without knowing he’s escaping danger. While it is not gruesome when you compare it to many of the video games kids play, it is still a murder.


The novel begins with the following passage.

The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

The street door was still open, just a little, where the knife and the man who held it had slipped in, and wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.

Bod makes his way to the cemetery and falls under the care of the resident ghosts. It takes a village to raise a child. This village happens to be full of dead people.

The Gothic writing style of the book nicely compliments the tone and plot of the story. It is a refreshing change to the overdone soundbite writing I feel compelled to complain about every few days.

“If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.”

That line is proof you don’t need four paragraphs of 10-dollar words and witty dialogue to show the reader the family was taken by surprise and died before they were able to comprehend what happened. You need fifteen words and two commas.

The normally ironclad grip I hold on my emotions started to slip as I neared the end of the story. I didn’t so much as sting my eyes reading The Fault in Our Stars, so this surprised me. The truth is, I didn’t want the book to end. I fell in love with the characters of The Graveyard Book the way you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once.


Graveyard Book, 2

My quibble with the book is that Gaiman doesn’t spend enough time describing the antagonists or explaining the reason for the murders. Jack’s motivation to hunt Bod for years is also difficult to understand until the answers come, but those answers happen neatly across one or two pages. I understand the reason for the murders and the antagonists was to get Bod to the cemetery: a catalyst for the story to begin. I still feel they deserved more development.

I initially felt the same way regarding Bod’s guardian, Silas. We don’t know who or what he is, and for a while that bothered me. After I thought about it, I decided it made sense. Silas was a mystery, but all adults and parents are a mystery. I’m a woman with children of my own and my parents are still a mystery I have no hope of solving.

Even those (teeny, tiny) complaints weren’t enough for me to take away a star. Five stars, people! Unheard of for me. This is one of the best children’s books I have read and one I will recommend to the older students.

Hi! I’m Jules.

I used to be an attorney, but it made me grumpy. Now I write about life, sweet and savory, as a wife and mother to two small boys. My knowledge of dinosaurs knows no bounds.

You can read more, including the meaning behind the name Pancakes and French Fries here. And, yes, I really am phenomenally indecisive.