Two Newbury Honor Books. One old. One New.

I know it is not always easy to find books that challenge and entertain this age group, but I think readers of all ages will appreciate both of these books. On a recent trip to the library I found this gem.

A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. Published in 1998, I wondered why I had never read it and could it still be relevant? I also wondered if middle school readers would still relate to the storytelling. As a writer, I completely appreciated the author’s consistent voice, accuracy of character development and the age appropriateness of the humor. The characters are fictional, but I felt as if I had met each one of them in real life. As a reader, I was transported to a time before I was born and entertained, educated and left thinking about the characters long after I closed the back cover. It happened to be on the “new at the library” shelf which is likely the reason I picked it up. I also assume that because the author died recently perhaps patrons had been requesting more books authored by him be housed at our library. I was fortunate to hear Richard Peck speak at a conference in 2017 and now even more fortunate to have read another one of his books.

Moving forward in publishing years but backward further in time(kind of), The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz is a completely different book. To give an honest review, I try not to read what everyone else has said about a book. I try to ignore, the flap copy, the blurbs, the tweets, the publisher push, etc. so I just jumped in and was quickly taken aback by the violence, the faith/anti-faith component as well as the language mismatch. This is supposed to be middle grade fiction. I felt the author had hijacked the Canterbury Tales and completely mis-represented that story telling style to the point that it was so outlandish no one should read this book. WAIT – this is a Newbery Honor Book. What is wrong with me? So, I started over. The front cover, the flap copy, the blurbs, aha – the author’s note and the annotated bibliography. Read those first! I even visited Adam’s website to understand the types of stories he tells. Then, I started again and although I still do not find the humor that so many reviews mention I do see the opportunity for older readers to begin understanding the middle ages and the way information traveled and stories were told. This book might start the conversation between youth and adults about medieval times and where current beliefs stray from what was known in the past. Ultimately, it is a story of friendship and acceptance. I would not recommend taking giant breaks when reading this book because you will need to ‘travel back’ and review and have a dictionary handy. Worth the read.

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