Friday, September 4, 2009

Newbery Winners, Printz Winners

Newbery Winner 1922-1950

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry

Bibliographic Information:
Sperry, A. (1940). Call it courage. New York: Scholastic Book Services.

A young man, Mafatu, from a Polynesian tropical island, is terrified of the sea. Living on an island and always being surrounded by the sea makes for a very difficult life when you are afraid of it. Mafatu, after being made fun of for years, decides to set off on his own to conquer his fear of the sea. A hurricane sends him to a deserted island after destroying his canoe. Mafatu must use all his skills to survive and find a way back home while still trying to get past his fear for the only way he can return there, the sea.

Lead Comments:
This is a very fast paced book that had me reading it from cover-to-cover in one sitting. The universal themes of self-actualization, adventure and survival are what make this a classic book. Mafatu finds danger in many facets of the island, but uses his strength, skills and intelligence to survive. Overcoming his fear of the sea happens on its own, as he builds a relationship with the sea that helps Mafatu survive. I loved all the action, tribal lore, and history that is a part of this exciting book.

Children's Literature: (Excerpt)
When [Mafatu] was only three years old he desperately clung to his mother's neck as she struggled to survive in raging sea waters. She managed to carry Mafatu to shore, but she died immediately after. Ever since, Mafatu has feared the sea. His friends and family scorn him, and Mafatu is ashamed. In a desperate attempt to overcome his fears and to prove that he is not a coward, Mafatu boldly hops into a canoe. The ensuing events prove that Mafatu is more than brave... he is truly a hero. His courage is remembered for generations to come. It is easy to understand why this fast moving and exciting story is so deserving of the Newbery award that it won. Reviewer: Denise Daley (Retrieved September 25, 2009 from
The New York Times: (Excerpt)
Whether this author is telling of clipper ships, of the days of the covered wagon, of the South Sea Islands, he writes always with imagination and integrity. Like all hero legends Mafatu's story has a strength and simplicity that appeals to a wide range in age and it is beautifully told. Mr. Sperry's fine drawings have the same spirit of adventure as the story and enhance the feeling of tropical seas and jungle given in the text. (Retrieved September 26, 2009 from

Teacher Tools & Library Leads:
A great commercial/trailer for Call It Courage is played on a radio station I often listen to and is sponsored by the Ad Council and the Library of Congress. A great activity would be to make a book trailer for this wonderful Newbery winner using graphics, video and audio. Students can write a script and a plan for their trailers and if time permits, have the class vote on the best one or two to actually produce. The library can use it as promotion for the book and literacy and reading in general.

Newbery Winner 1976-2009

THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin

Bibliographic Information:
Raskin, E. (1978). The Westing game. New York: E. P. Dutton.

An eccentric millionaire dies and unexpectedly gathers an odd group of 16 people for the reading of the will. Before handing out the inheritance, the people are teamed up into pairs to find the true answer behind Samuel W. Westing's death. An apartment building full of the potential heirs is the site of this crazy, fun and entertaining mystery. Thefts, bombings and self-discovery are all part of the intrigue.

Lead Comments:
I loved this book! The whole "who dunnit" mystery and the fun of uncovering the clues makes this a quick and easy read. The characters are seemingly random and unrelated, but as the story progresses, you learn how their lives are intertwined. The female characters, especially, evolve throughout the book as they discover who they are and who they want to be. An unlikely hero emerges to solve the mystery while keeping the solution secret. The ending is fun and fair!


CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 2004): (Excerpt)
Turtle Wexler isn't the kind of child who turns down a dare. A chance to earn two dollars a minute for venturing into the deserted Westing house appeals to her mercenary instincts...The corpse that Turtle discovers mid-dare marks her entry into The Westing Game, in which sixteen unlikely individuals vie for the opportunity to inherit the deceased man's fortune. ...Ellen Raskin's timeless mystery is an intricate construction of clues, wordplay, dead ends, and last minute surprises. More than a clever puzzle, the interactions of the potential heirs offer insight into relationships, love, differences, and tolerance. (Retrieved September 27, 2009 from UNT Electronic Resources-Children's Literature Comprehensive Database)

Teacher Tools & Library Leads:
Mysteries are great to try to solve as are codes. Using the words from the song "America the Beautiful," Sam Westing sent his potential heirs a message about one of the group. Have students take the lyrics from a song and send their classmates a message by removing parts of words or words from the lyric.
Discuss Sam Westing's four identities and how they were figured out by the unlikely hero of the book. Why didn't she tell the others about her discovery? Why does she lie to Sam at the end of the book? When have you ever lied for a good reason? Great discussion and essay topics for students of any age.
From the Publisher: (Excerpt)
This highly inventive mystery involves sixteen people who are invited to the reading of Samuel W. Westing's will. They could become millionaires, depending on how they play the tricky and dangerous Westing game, which involves blizzards, burglaries, and bombings. Ellen Raskin has entangled a remarkable cast of characters in a puzzle-knotted, word-twisting plot filled with humor, intrigue, and suspense. (Retrieved September 26, 2009 from

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