I set the Newbery Medal project aside when we went on vacation. I'm getting back on track this fall. In earlier reviews I noted that the older Newbery books did not have references or explanations to provide context to the stories. I found that omission frustrating. These contemporary winners have afterwords that do provide helpful context.
MOON OVER MANIFEST (2011)
by Clare Vanderpool
I wanted to like this story more than I did. After all, Manifest, Kansas, is based on Frontenac. I've been there -- we lived in that part of southeast Kansas, in Pittsburg (the city next to Frontenac). The book is set in the Depression and features plucky girls and an intriguing family mystery. ("Manifest" refers to both the noun ("a roster") and the verb ("to reveal").)
In 1936 Abilene Tucker's drifter father sends her to Manifest to spend the summer with his old pal Shady. Abilene finds a box hidden under the floorboards with 'treasures'--a key, a fishing lure--and letters from 1918 with reference to the Rattler, a mysterious spy. Miss Sadie is a diviner, a fortune teller, who tells the stories behind the treasures and the letters.
I got stuck early. In one of the WWI flashback episodes Mrs. Eugene Larkin, president of the DAR, announces a fundraising quilt project to raise money for Liberty Bonds. Point 1: would Manifest/Frontenac, a mining town with a large immigrant population, have had a DAR chapter? Pittsburg did (and still does). Point 2: the description of the quilt project is not what a WWI fundraiser would have been. One of the characters "waves a swatch of paisley fabric." "You'd better just stitch up your little quilt square." What? Here is a description of the fundraiser quilts. The fabric would have been plain muslin or percale, not paisley!
I know that that is just a minor scene. The book is not about quilting. There is much more to the story. But I couldn't get the inauthenticity out of my head. (There may be inauthenticity or anachronism in other books that I don't notice because they're not subjects I know as much about.)
THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN (2013)
by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is a gorilla who has been part of a menagerie at a shopping mall for 27 years. "It is not as easy as it looks," he says. His companions are Stella the elephant and Bob the smart-aleck stray mutt. There are humans, too -- Mack the mall owner, George the janitor, and Julia, George's daughter. Ivan is an artist whose sketches are sold ("twenty dollars, twenty-five with frame") at a gift shop in the mall. But the animals are no longer the crowd-getters and Mack is considering getting rid of them. Ivan makes a bold move to save them all.
Ivan tells his own story in short sentences. There is tragedy (Stella is mistreated, sickens, and dies). There is comedy (Bob's wisecracks). There is courage (Ivan's daring). There is hope (baby elephant Ruby). There is triumph (the animals are released to a zoo ("where humans make amends").)
This is a charming story. I smiled. I cried. I cheered.
FLORA AND ULYSSES: THE ILLUMINATED ADVENTURES (2014)
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by K. G. Campbell
Flora Belle Buckman is a 10-year-old cynic (so her mother labels her) who loves comics, especially those about the Great Incandesto! (with an exclamation point). When a squirrel is inadvertently swept up by a vacuum cleaner Flora rescues him and names him Ulysses. The vacuum trauma transforms Ulysses into a superhero like Incandesto!. His superhero character is unappreciated by some of the adults in Flora's life -- her romance-novel-writer mother, her socially clueless father, and especially the waitress at a pancake house (into whose beehive hairdo Ulysses leaps). On the other hand, Tootie Tickham (who vacuumed Ulysses to superherodom) and her nephew William are more understanding. So is the elderly widow Dr. Meescham (a doctor of philosophy).
This is a fast-paced, witty, and memorable story with terrific exaggerated turns-of-phrase and a great vocabulary. As Incandesto! would say, "Holy bagumba!"