You had me scrambling to read some of these books and catch up with you. And now I see that Heavy Medal is underway again, giving us even more titles to read. Interesting that the discussion on Wonder has already started in the comments: looks like we’re not the only ones who have issues with it.
So, to start with The Mighty Miss Malone, since you didn’t discuss it at all. You’re right, I did love this book. I liked its sense of time and place, which, of course, Curtis has done before, notably in Bud, Not Buddy. (By the way, I had to go back to Bud, Not Buddy to find the scene in which Bud meets Deza Malone–it’s in the Hooverville outside of Flint, and it happens also in The Mighty Miss Malone, only Bud isn’t named. It’s fun to read the scene in both books and see the differences a narrator makes!) Anyway, I’ve seen some criticism that the book rambles a bit, but I didn’t have a problem with that; I thought it went with the confusion of the time and the way the Depression and the loss of a major income-earner in the family could throw everything up in the air. There were some great scenes, including the one in which Deza is given W.E.B. DuBois’s The Quest of the Silver Fleece. “It started in a swamp. It said something about a boy’s brown cheek and I read it again to make sure. Yes, his brown cheek. I got a sinking feeling, so many times stories that have people with brown skin turn out terrible, but I read on. The book grabbed me and shook me like a soon-to-die rat in a terrier’s jaws! It was about black people and they had real problems and thoughts and did real things . . .”
I also liked the fact that this was a book about a family that seemed real. They care about each other. They each have their foibles and the other family members all know what they are, but they still love each other and do what they can for each other. And this may seem like a minor point, but I liked it that the Malones had family in-jokes. The “Manipula-Mobile.” “Flint-style” vs. “Gary-style” gift-opening. It’s a simple but a really effective way of showing how a family operates.
On to some of the books you mentioned. I read The One and Only Ivan this weekend, and I liked it a lot. I’m not a huge fan of animal books (I say this, despite the fact that my favorite children’s book of all time is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH), but Ivan really did get under my skin. I liked the humor (“Chimps. There’s no excuse for them.”). I liked the relationships, and the adventure, and I agree with you that Applegate managed to convince me that this is how a gorilla would think. So thanks for recommending that one.
I also read The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated this weekend. I haven’t read any of the other Knights’ Tales, so this was new to me. I thought it was fun, but I wasn’t all that impressed. I do think it would be a lot of fun to read aloud, and I bet I can tell one of the things Elsa liked about it: the phrases like “Put a cork in it,” “You cloth-headed bungle-noggin,” “Harleus Le Berbeus.” They’re just fun to say.
I haven’t yet read Marching to the Mountaintop, Palace of Stone, or The Humming Room, but I’m particularly interested in the latter, especially since you have tied it to The Secret Garden, a book about which I have very mixed feelings, since I love-love-loved it as a child (re-read it at least once a year, from the second grade on) but see some of its flaws as an adult.
I did read The Fairy Ring, and found it a bit puzzling. First, there’s the question of audience. You mention here that it would be great for a 4th-grader, and I’m inclined to agree, at least as far as the writing style goes. My library has it cataloged as YA nonfiction (and I think you also included it in your YA nonfiction round-up article for The Hub), and that makes sense, too, in a way, because of the subject matter. Second, I thought that Losure’s straight-forward style of writing was just fascinating: clearly, Frances believed that she saw fairies, so perhaps didn’t really think that the photos were completely fakes. But what about Elsie? I never got a handle on her, but did find it fascinating that for all those years and with all the hoopla (and even the insults to her own artistic abilities), she never let on that she drew the fairies. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like the way that Losure leaves the conclusions up to the readers, and just gives as the facts. I’ll have to think about this one some more.
Liar and Spy is rightly getting its share of praise right now. I didn’t think the ending was so much a twist as it was just carefully concealed, but with plenty of clues along the way (just as Safer’s secret was concealed, but not a surprise). I think some kids will pick up on the hints, and others won’t, and that’s all right. As with The Mighty Miss Malone, I liked that Georges and his family had a connection that felt real, even in the midst of troubled times. In fact, putting these two books head-to-head, I don’t know which I could say was better. Despite very different settings, they actually have a lot of similarities in theme.
I see that See You at Harry’s, by Jo Knowles, is doing well on the Goodreads Newbery poll, but it didn’t really do anything for me. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m looking for a “zing” that I didn’t find in this book.
Books that I”m looking forward to reading in the coming months include: Step Gently Out, by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder; Summer of the Gypsy Moths, by Sara Pennypacker; and What Came from the Stars, by Gary Schmidt.